Welcome to Machine of the Month! Each month we'll be exploring a famous plane, ship or tank through an extract, blog post, fact file and artwork.

This month we're looking at Jagdpanzer.

Next month we'll be moving onto a plane feature.

We'd love to hear if you have any ideas for features you'd like to see.


In Pictures

When the 5cm PaK 38 entered service, German military planners intended it to be towed by a half-track tractor; these were never available in sufficient numbers: a problem which would plague German armoured and artillery units throughout the war.


The PzSfl 1 was of simple construction. The captured Russian weapon was built on a simple bridge, mounted transversely on the hull of the tank. The operation had no effective protection against enemy fire and the weather. Some 150 were built.


A 7.5cm PaK 42 L/70- armed Panzer IV/70 (V) parked on a cobbled street of a small town in the west of the Reich. The vehicle mounts a 7.5cm PaK 42 L/70 gun and has 80mm front armour, both of which began to be introduced from May 1944. This increased the front loading, necessitating the introduction of all-steel running wheels.


The First Jagdpanzer

In March 1943, assault guns were supplied for the first time in larger numbers to branches of the armed forces other than the assault artillery. Initially, the three Panzer divisions that were destroyed at Stalingrad (14.PzDiv, 16.PzDiv and 24.PzDiv) each received a Panzer-Sturmgeschütz-Abteilung (PzStuGAbt – armoured assault gun battalion). This was followed in June by the PzGrenDiv (created from infantry division [mot]), which were in the process of being formed. But Hitler had already issued a Führer-Entscheidung (decision) in March:

The assault guns remain with the artillery as before and continue to have the purpose of serving the infantry as armoured escort artillery. Whenever assault guns are handed over to a PzDiv, they will during this time come under the care of the GenInsp d PzTrp.

These lines seem to imply only a temporary transfer of the assault guns. However, this question cannot be answered conclusively. Basically, this decision was driven by the German Reich losing the ability to conduct operational warfare after the aborted Kursk offensive. The consolidation of defensive structures now had to be given more attention.

Since the assault guns on the Eastern Front had proven to be extremely successful in the fight against the numerically superior Russian tanks, it was decided towards the end of 1943 to assign one company of these vehicles to each of the tank destroyer sections in infantry and mountain divisions. This meant that they were also subordinate to the Panzertruppe. Although this undoubtedly strengthened the combat power of the tank destroyer units, the small number of vehicles (10 to 14) meant that offensive deployment was virtually impossible.

Consequently, assault guns became tank destroyers – Jagdpanzer (JgdPz – hunter tank) – and the intended establishment of the assault artillery moved into the distant future.

This measure was not without controversy at the time. Despite the increase in production (792 StuG were manufactured in 1942, increasing to more than 3,000 in 1943), not all expectations could be met. Beginning in 1940, the artillery had insisted on the originally planned allocation of one StuGAbt in each infantry division. The fulfilment of these ambitious planning goals was, however, not possible because of the lack of manufacturing capacity.

The General der Artillerie Fritz Lindemann complained in a letter to the chief of the general staff, Generaloberst Kurt Zeitzler:

The StuArt is indeed the backbone of our infantry, which is often confronted with the most difficult tasks. StuG achieve the highest scores of all armoured vehicles and they have, so far, knocked out more than 12,000 enemy tanks. Assault guns have the lowest own casualties and have the highest percentage of operational vehicles.

The increase in assault gun production has already been ordered by Führer decree. Contrary to the prescribed concentrated deployment of assault guns in StuGAbt, distribution of the weapon remains fragmented. On 1 December 1943 there were:

  • StuArt units: 54 percent
  • Panzer units: 25.3 percent
  • PzJg units of InfDiv: 5.5 percent
  • PzJg units of Luftwaffe Field Divisions: 2.2 percent
  • Waffen-SS units: 13 percent

Based on the conviction that the assault artillery will continue to gain importance in the coming year for the fight against the growing Russian assault artillery and tanks, I propose a clear delineation of development and responsibility:

Panzer and PzGrenDiv shall receive conventional tanks for independent tactical and operational deployment.

StuG of all calibres should be provided in battalion size at army troop level for immediate support of infantry divisions.

These quite understandable demands could not be met; there was a lack not only of the necessary production capacity, but probably also of political will. Understandably, the priority of the Organisationsabteilung (OrgAbt – organization department) was to secure replacements for front-line losses, as well as supplies for new deployments, and here the utilization of all available production capacity was crucial.

Sturmgeschütz IV

Instead, the production ratio now shifted. In 1943, some 3,011 more assault guns were produced than PzKpfw IV. This development received a dampener on 23–26 November 1943, when the company Altmärkische Kettenwerk (Alkett) became the target of a devastating attack by Allied bombers, causing production output to decline sharply.

To compensate for the loss of production, it was now hastily decided to mount an assault gun superstructure on the hull of the PzKpfw IV: In fact, this had already been discussed at the beginning of the year. At that time, Krupp supplied plans for an improved PzKpfw IV with sloped armour and better running gear with wider tracks. The complete conversion of both the PzKpfw IV and the assault gun production to this new design was considered, but the project soon had to be abandoned for various reasons.

The assembly of the Kasemitt superstructure on an unchanged PzKpfw IV hull did not prove to be difficult. Minor problems arose only in the area of the driver’s seat which, due to the longer hull, was positioned further forward in front of the superstructure. Consequently, an armoured box was fabricated to protect the driver.

The designation StuG IV was chosen, while the vehicles based on the ZW chassis were designated StuG III. A first series of 30 StuG IV were built by Daimler-Benz at their facilities in Berlin-Marienfeld. Then, Krupp-Gruson in Magdeburg-Buckau, the company that manufactured the PzKpfw IV, took over production and delivered 1,141 StuG IV by April 1945.


7.5cm L/48 – The Panzerjäger Gun

The 7.5cm StuK 40, which entered service in 1942, was still an effective weapon against most enemy tanks in 1944. The most important type of ammunition was the 7.5cm PzGr 39. This projectile with an armour-piercing cap and a ballistic cover had an explosive charge that was triggered after penetratingm the armour. The ballistic performance of this ammunition naturally decreased gradually as target range increased; at 1,000m, it still penetrated some 82mm of Soviet armour. This was sufficient for the T-34 andm the KV, but the heavy Josef Stalin (JS) II was difficult to defeat in head-on combat.

On 26 June 1944, the office of the Genlinsp d PzTrp stated:

The PzGr 39 is sufficient to fight all British, US and Russian tank types, that have so far appeared, at combat ranges of 600m to 1,200m. Even the newly introduced JS-II, with over 100mm thick armour, can be fought successfully since the cast steel used is of a lower density.

The 7.5cm PzGr 40, a hard-core (tungsten) projectile, was also available. With a relatively small diameter and an aluminium alloy coating, this projectile had a lower mass than the conventional tank shell and achieved a higher velocity. The kinetic energy on impact was correspondingly much higher. However, since the penetration performance decreased disproportionately with increasing range, the ammunition was only used to combat heavily armoured battle tanks at close ranges. Also, since tungsten was a scarce material, only comparatively small quantities of the valuable ammunition were available, and gunners were urged to use it only in an exceptional situation.

A hollow charge projectile, the 7.5cm Gr 38 HL/C, could also be fired in certain situations. On impact, the conical shell projected a high-temperature jet of armour-piercing particles.

Ballistic performance remained constant at all achievable ranges and, despite only having a small diameter, the effect on a crew was usually fatal. The HL/C shell used in 1944 could effectively pierce armour up to 100mm thick. However, due to the low velocity and the associated curved trajectory, accuracy was significantly lower. For this reason, multiple shots (bracketing) had to be used in action, with the associated high consumption of ammunition. The effective range was 1,000m to 1,500m.

The StuG IV was built on the hull of the PzKpfw IV Ausf H and Ausf J. The bow plate was 80mm thick, as was the front of the angular casemate superstructure. Theoretically, this should have made the vehicle safe against fire from 7.5cm weapons at ranges of over 1,000m, although this seems doubtful in practice, since the enemy also had effective anti-tank ammunition at their disposal in 1944.

The hull and superstructure sides were 30mm thick, but the rear plate was only 20mm. But again, the StuG IV, like the PzKpfw IV, was extremely vulnerable to lateral fire. The deployment of the vehicles had to be adapted according to these weaknesses, but this was not always achievable.

A major problem was the fact that Red Army used 14.5mm heavy anti-tank rifles (PTRS and PTRD) in huge quantities. These could penetrate the side armour of the assault gun when operated by brave men at close range, resulting in damage and serious injury to the crew members. For this reason, 5mm steel plates were attached to side rails on all German tanks and assault guns. The Panzerschürzen (armour skirts) proved effective against these close range weapons, but were easily lost in action.

Read more in Thomas Anderson's Jagdpanzer