In March 1943, Col. Gen. Heinz Guderian demanded a light tank destroyer to replace all existing "interim solutions" (e.g. Marders) and towed anti-tank artillery (e.g. 75mm PaK 40 guns). The result of this was the Panzerjägerprogram or G-13. The new vehicle resulting from it was to equip tank destroyer units of infantry divisions. The Panzerkampfwagen 38(t) chassis was chosen as a base for this new Panzerjäger. It was first known as "Leichtes Sturmgeschutz 38(t)", then "Jagdpanzer 38(t) für 7.5cm Pak 39 L/48", and finally "Jagdpanzer 38 Hetzer". It appears that the name Hetzer was not an official name but used by troops and then used in post-war publications. On December 17, 1943, designs were ready and, on January 24, 1944, a wooden mock-up was finished. In March 1944, the first three proto-types were produced by BMM (Boehmish-Mährische Maschinenfabrik) and it was decided to start production. From March to April of 1944, prototypes were extensively tested, while preparations for production were made at BMM (Praga/CKD-Ceskomoravska Kolben Danek) in Prague and then at Skoda Works at Pilsen.
On April 20, 1944, the Hetzer was shown to Hitler and other leaders of the Third Reich at Arys (Orzysz) in East Prussia. At this time, the new Panzerjäger was designated Jagdpanzer 38(t) Hetzer (Baiter or Troublemaker), Sd.Kfz.138/2, but it was also known simply as Panzerjäger 38(t). Production started, in April 1944, at BMM and, in September, at Skoda. 2,584 were produced by May 1945 in three series (chassis numbers 321001-323000 by BMM, 323001-unknown by Skoda, and 325001-unknown). In April 1944, BMM produced the first 20 Hetzers and monthly production increased greatly thereafter. Eventually, plants in Prague, Pilsen, Königgrätz, Boehm, and Breslau made the Hetzer. Late-war production plans called for 1,000 Hetzers per month, starting in mid-1945.
In late 1943, before Jagdpanzer 38(t) Hetzer entered production, BMW and Wesserhuette were awarded a contract to design a small tank destroyer – klein Panzerjaeger Rutscher (Sander) but the project was canceled in February of 1944 after Hetzer was selected. The project was reactivated in January of 1945, and it was decided to continued development of Panzerkleinzerstoerer. The vehicle was to be a light and fast tank destroyer to compete with an American M 18 Hellcat tank destroyer. It was to be armed with PWK 8 H 63 smooth-bore gun firing fin-stabilized projectiles with effective range of 700 meters or regular 75mm KwK L/48 gun. Prototypes were never completed and the end of the war ended any further development.
Romanian Maresal MO-4
At the same time, Romanian designers produced designs of tank destroyer, very similar to Hetzer designated Maresal MO-4, armed with 75mm Resita M1943 gun (based on both Soviet 76.2mm ZIS-3 and German 75mm Pak 40 guns). The vehicle itself was based on captured Soviet T-60 chassis just as previous designs designated M-00, M-01, M-02 and M-03.
In December of 1943, plans were presented to German designers, who then utilized some of its features in Hetzer’s development. In March of 1944, Maresal’s development was continued due to Fuhrer’s support and further variants MO-5 and MO-6 were planned. In May of 1944, prototype of Maresal MO-4 was produced and after extensive tests it proved to be better than German Sturmgeschutz III(40) Ausf G and 75mm Resita M1943 gun proved to be better than German 75mm Pak 40 gun. Right away 1000 vehicles were ordered to be produced by Rofiger works. It was also planned to start production at plants both in Germany and Romania.
In June of 1944, Germans also proposed to produce Flakpanzer Maresal.
In August of 1944, first pre-production series of 10 was produced along with prototype of Maresal MO-5. Further production did not take place since Romania was "liberated" by the Red Army and on October 26th of 1944, Russians ordered all existing vehicles and prototypes to be scrapped and cancelled entire project.
Hetzers were to equip tank destroyer units (Panzerjaeger Abteilung / Panzerjaeger Kompanie) of infantry divisions, panzergrenadier divisions and independent units. Main center for training of future Hetzer crews was located at Milovice – Panzerjaegerschule. Majority was issued to Wehrmacht infantry divisions (starting in July of 1944) with 15th and 76th Infantry Division) and Volksgrenadier divisions. Hetzers were also issued as replacements for Marders and other Jagdpanzers to other units.
In last months of the war, Hetzers were often issued as replacements for lost battle tanks, a role they were not intended for (e.g. Panzer Division Kurmark and Feldherrnhalle). Some were issued to improvised units created in the last days of the war from various military personnel. Hetzer was also one of the last German armoured fighting vehicles that remained in production and was issued to the troops until the last days of the war.
Hetzers equipped all types of formations of the Wehrmacht, Waffen-SS (10 divisions), Luftwaffe (1 division), Kriegsmarine (2 divisions), RAD (3 divisions) and ROA (Russian Liberation Army) and saw service on all fronts. Large number of Hetzers took part in the German offensive in the Ardennes in late 1944.
First Hetzers entered service with 731st and 743rd Heeres Panzerjager Abteilung in May/June of 1944. Each unit received 45 Hetzers and both units saw service on the Eastern Front. Following, Hetzers were issued to three more independent units – 741st (1944), 561st (1945) and 744th Heeres Panzerjager Abteilung (1945). Waffen-SS received small number of Hetzer and first unit to be issued with Hetzers was 8th SS Cavalry Division Florian Geyer in September of 1944. Some 200 were issued in 1944 and 1945 to 10 Waffen SS divisions, mainly panzergrenadier.
Hetzer was built on the Panzerkampfwagen 38(t)‘s widened chassis with modified suspension (larger road-wheels from Praga TNH n.A prototype reconnaissance tank) and up-rated engine. The new engine was 160hp Praga AC/2 6-cylinder engine controlled by Praga-Wilson gearbox (5 forward and 1 reverse gear). Chassis was modified in order to accommodate larger gun and thicker armour than regular Panzerkampfwagen 38(t) tank. Hetzer carried 320 litres of fuel in two tanks, which gave it maximum range of 177km. Its combat weight was 16 metric tons and it could travel at maximum speed of some 42km/h. Hetzer’s tracks had 96 links per side with 350mm wide tracks with track surface contact of 2.72m. Hetzer had a low well-sloped hull of welded construction. Hull had 60mm thick frontal plate, 8mm thin roof and rear armour and 20mm thin side armour. All armoured plates sloped inwards. In addition, Hetzer was fitted with small 5mm side skirts (Schuerzen). It was armed with 75mm Pak 39 L/48 gun with limited traverse (5 degrees to the left and 11 degrees to the right) and elevation (-6 degrees to +10 degrees). The gun was mounted with Sfl.Z.F.1a gun sight. Main armament was protected by 60mm cast gun mantlet – Saukopf. Heavy gun and thick frontal plate overloaded the front but it was later corrected by the use of strengthen suspension. The main gun had an effective range of over 1000 meters. For example Hetzer could knock out Soviet T-34/85 at a distance of 700m by hitting the frontal armour, while Soviet T-34/85 could knock out Hetzer at a distance of 400m by hitting the frontal armour. In comparison with a JS-2, Hetzer could be knocked out at a distance of 1000m, while Hetzer could knock JS-2 out at a distance of 100m. The limited traverse of the gun forced Hetzer to constantly change position in order to target another enemy tank, while exposing its thin 20mm side armour to enemy fire. An interesting feature was the remotely controlled MG34/42 mounted on the roof, with 360 degrees rotation for local defense. The machine gun had a 50-round drum magazine and could be aimed and fired from inside the vehicle. However, the loader was then exposed to enemy fire for reloading. The late Stug III also used this machine gun system.
Jagdpanzer 38(t) Hetzer
Jagdpanzer 38(t) Hetzer Picture
Hetzer’s interior was cramped for the four-man crew (commander, gunner, loader and driver), because of its sloped armour and low silhouette. Interior was divided into two compartments – engine and fighting/crews compartment. Gunner and loader were located on the left side of the gun; commander was in the rear on the right side of the gun, while the driver in front of the vehicle on the left side of the gun. Crew communicated using the intercom system and 10-watt FuG5 radio set. Hetzers completed as command vehicles – Befehlswagen 38(t) Hetzer had additional 30-watt FuG8 radio set.
Commander could observe the battlefield using periscoping binoculars, through an open hatch in the roof but overall, his field of view was limited. The low silhouette made it a difficult to spot and at the same time gave Hetzer an advantage of attacking first. 75mm anti-tank gun was mounted far to the right (380mm of centre) what created difficulties for the crew (especially the gunner and loader), since the weapon itself was designed to be loaded from the right, resulting in the low rate of fire. Small space inside allowed only 40-41 rounds of 75mm and 600 round of 7.92mm ammunition to be stored. Later on storage space was increased and 45 rounds of 75mm ammunition were carried.
Hetzer was constantly modified and detailed during production and there are numerous differences between early, mid and later production vehicles. Most of the modifications were made in order to simplify production and to cope with shortages of materials. Modifications included: modified commander’s and access hatches, lighter gun mantlet (30mm), modified road wheels, various types of idlers, strengthened suspension, muffler, etc.
Panzer Units Bulletin from October of 1944 – "…Light tank destroyer Jagdpanzer 38 proved itself in combat. Crews are proud of them (Hetzers) and they as well as the infantry have confidence in them. The most praised is the option of all-around fire from the machine gun. Great firepower, low profile and overall shape proved suitability to fulfill two main tasks: fighting enemy tanks and direct support of the infantry in defence and offense. It occurred that single company in short time destroyed 20 enemy tanks without any losses. One unit destroyed 57 enemy tanks (including 2 Stalins at 800m (Soviet IS-2)) without any losses. This same unit arrived in the combat area after traveling during the day the distance of 160km without any breakdowns…Front armor can withstand Soviet 76.2mm gun fire. Current losses are results of side and rear plates being hit…"
"…During one of fire duels of 4 self-propelled guns (Hetzers) from our company (3rd company of H.Pz.Jg.Abt 731) with single IS 122 (Soviet IS-2) at the distance of 1200m it was revealed that 10 rounds fired by the enemy tank at the company commander’s vehicle fell 100m short of their target. Company commander right away ordered one of the guns (Hetzers) to move to the right and use the depression attacking from the side. Six rounds fired from that gun (Hetzer) hit the side armor and set IS 122 (IS-2) on fire…".
Flammpanzer 38(t) Hetzer captured during the Ardennes Offensive, Winter 1944
In December of 1944, 20 Hetzers were converted into flamethrowers – Flammpanzer 38(t) Hetzer for the upcoming Ardennes Offensive. Flame projector (14mm Flammenwerfer 41) was fitted in the standard barrel in order to camouflage its real role as flamethrower. All were attached to 352nd and 353rd Panzer-Flamm-Kompanie attached to Army Group G.
In the early 1945, few Hetzers were rearmed with Panther‘s 75mm KwK 42 L/70 in order to increase their hitting power. After tests this idea was rejected since the long barreled gun made the nose extremely heavy and entire vehicle less mobile and difficult to operate. Krupp also proposed to modify Hetzer into Panzerjaeger 38(t) mit 75mm L/70 – Hetzer mounted with new larger superstructure in the rear armed with 75mm L/70 gun.
15cm Schweres Infanteriegeschuetz 33/2 (Sf) auf Jagdpanzer 38(t) Hetzer - Picture provided by Dmitry Pyatakhin
Designers planned to utilize Hetzer’s chassis and hull for various purposes such as flakpanzer and other but none of them reached production stage. In November of 1944, it was decided to use Jadgpanzer 38(t) as a base for 150mm sIG33/2 carrier. From December of 1944 to the end of the war total of 30 carriers was produced by BMM (Praga/CKD). They were designated as 15cm Schweres Infanteriegeschuetz 33/2 (Sf) auf Jagdpanzer 38(t) Hetzer.
From October of 1944, 106 Bergepanzer 38(t) Hetzer were produced including 64 Hetzers converted to those light recovery vehicles.
In order to simply production, Jagdpanzer 38(t) Hetzer Starr armed with rigidly mounted and recoilless 75mm Pak 39/1 L/48 was being developed since December of 1943.
Also assault gun variant armed with 105mm StuH 42/2 L/28 gun was to be produced later on as part of E-Series based on 38(d) chassis. Vehicle was powered by Tatra 103 Diesel engine and weightened 14000kg. Production of prototype series of 10 started in May of 1944 and ended in February of 1945, when additional 100 vehicles were ordered. On April 21st of 1945, series of 500 vehicle was ordered, while its full-scale production was planned to start in May of 1945, but the end of the war ended further development.
Interesting fact is that after the war, nine of ten Hetzer Starr were rebuild to their original specifications.
In November of 1944, it was also accepted to utilize Hetzer’s chassis as a base for Flakpanzer 38(t) Hetzer (Kleiner Kugelblitz) mounted with turret (with the same and/or different armament) designed for Flakpanzer IV Kugelblitz, but it was never materialized due to the war situation.
Interesting proposal was made by Krupp to mount Hetzer with PzKpfw IV‘s turret, but it proved to be impossible to carry out. Krupp also proposed to mount Hetzer with modified PzKpfw IV turret armed with 80mm PAW (Panzerabwehrwerfer – smoothbore anti-tank gun) 600 gun, but it was also not realized.
First examples of the gun were made in December of 1944 and till March of 1945 only 20 pieces were made. It was an advanced design anti-tank gun. The gun was light 640kg piece and could penetrate up 140mm at 750m.
Vollkettenaufklarer 38(t) "Katzchen"
Vollkettenaufklarer 38(t) Katzchen
In 1943, Auto-Union was ordered to design fully tracked reconnaissance vehicle for the needs of the Eastern Front. The vehicle was to carry 6 to 8 soldiers acting as a personnel carrier and was not to engage enemy vehicles. In early 1944, Auto-Union produced full scale mockup along with two prototypes. The fighting compartment was open at the top. The crew consisted of driver (on the left) and MG42 gunner (on the right). The fighting compartment layout was similar to the Sd.Kfz.251 personnel carrier. The vehicle was powered by 180-200hp Maybach HL 50Z engine. Armor protection ranged from 14.5mm (sides and rear) to 30mm (front). The chassis combined newly designed components (e.g. overlapping steel-rimmed wheels) along with those of PzKpfw IV (e.g. tracks). Both prototypes were tested at Berka in the Summer of 1944 and numerous mechanical problems were encountered.
In September of 1944, Auto-Union was ordered to end work on the design and BMM was ordered to continue work by adaptating Jagdpanzer 38(t) Hetzer chassis. One of two Auto-Union prototypes designated as Gepanzerter Mannschaftransportwagen Katzchen (Kitten) was captured by the US Army in early 1945.
Two prototypes based on PzKpfw 38(t) nA (neuer Art) were ordered. BMM’s design was similar to that of Auto-Union, but featured some modifications (e.g. two MGs instead of one, engine on the right instead of left, improved armor protection – 50mm front, etc). Two type of engines were considered and tested, 220hp Tatra 103 and 280hp Praga NR. The BMM’s design had better performance than the Auto-Union one e.g. maximum road speed of 64km/h and maximum cross-country speed of 40km/h with range of 600km. Production of BMM’s design designated as Vollkettenaufklarer 38(t) Katzchen (Kitten) was planned but never took place and two prototypes were probably destroyed late in the war.
Eventually, Jagdpanzer 38(d) based on PzKpfw 38(d) armed with 75mm Pak 39 L/48 or 75mm PzJagK 42 L/70 was to be produced as a replacement for Hetzer. Jagdpanzer 38(d) was to be powered by either Tatra 103 Diesel engine or Maybach HL64 fuel-injected engine. Some 1250 were ordered and production was to start in the Summer of 1945.
The end of the war terminated entire 38(d) project, which was part of E-Series.
In the Summer of 1944, it was planned to deliver 30 Hetzers to the Romanian Army but instead they were delivered to the Wehrmacht.
From December of 1944 to January of 1945, Germany exported 75 to 100 Hetzers to Hungary, the only other user of Hetzer during the war.
Few captured Hetzers were briefly used by Polish, American, Soviet and Bulgarian units.
The probably the most notable Hetzer (from 743rd Panzerjager Abteilung) was that captured by Polish Home Army during Warsaw Uprising on August 2nd of 1944, which was repaired and nicknamed "Chwat" (Gallant/Brave Fellow) and was used against its previous owners.
Swiss Jagdpanzer G-13
After May of 1945, production of Hetzer (also abandomed and damaged vehicles were repaired) now designated ST(Stihac Tanku)-I continued at Skoda and Praga Works in Czechoslovakia until early 1960s. Along with ST-I, 50 unarmed training versions (some were fitted with superstructures) designated as ST-III/CVP were produced.
In 1949, modified hull of ST-I (with removed armament and opening enclosed) was mounted with modified PzKpfw 38(t) turret. The turret was armed with 7.92mm ZPB-A or 7.62mm DT-28 machine gun (left side) and German Flammenwerfer 41 flamethrower (right side). This flamethrowing tank was designated PM-I and prototype was completed in 1951. It was tested in 1953, but in 1955 Czechoslovak army was not interested in such vehicle anymore and PM-I was cancelled.
In 1950, CKD produced prototype of tractor/recovery vehicle based on ST-I, designated Praga VT-III.
Czechoslovakian Army was equipped with some 249 ST-1 in 1949 and used them until mid/late 1950s.
Hetzers were probably used after the war by Swedish until early 1960s. Swiss army purchased some 158 Hetzers by 1947 and retained them designated as G-13, until early 1970s. G-13 were armed with 75mm Stuk 40 gun as planned by German designers during the war. G-13s were a subject of various modifications which were made by Swiss Army in order to keep them up-to-date (eg. some were fitted with 6-cylinder, 150hp diesel engines and were designated G-13D). In addition, Swiss army ordered tractor/recovery vehicle based on G-13, designated by CKD as Praga DT-III.
Also, Israel was interested in purchasing 65 ST-Is, but because of their high price (twice higher than that of a Sherman) transaction was never completed.
Around 1947, Sweden purchased single Hetzer, probably from France, and used it for test purposes till early 1950s.
Jagdpanzer 38(t) Hetzer was cheap, fast, low and hard hitting and is considered to be one of the most successful tank destroyers of World War II. It was not popular with crews but proved to be a dangerous opponent on the defensive and is considered as one of the best German tank-hunters of the late war period. Hetzer’s design is still considered to be a base for some modern tank destroyers, the most notably including Swedish Stridsvagn 103 (S-Tank).
Today, Hetzer and its variants can be seen on display in many locations such as: Hetzer at Axvall, Sweden; G-13 modified to Hetzer standard at Panzermuseum Munster, Germany; unarmed Hetzer and post-war ST-1 at Lesany, Czech Republic; Hetzer at Imperial War Museum in Duxford, England; Hetzer in Museum of the Polish Army in Warsaw, Poland; Hetzer NIIBT Kubinka, Russia; G-13 modified to Hetzer standard at Bastogne Historical Center, Belgium; Hetzer at Bovington Tank Museum, England; Hetzer at Worthington Park Museum, Canada; G-13 at National Museum of Military History in Diekirch, Luxembourg; Hetzer and G-13 at Swiss Army Panzermuseum in Thun, Switzerland; G-13 at Auto & Technik Museum in Sinsheim, Germany; G-13 converted to Hetzer standard at Royal Army Museum in Brussels, Belgium; G-13 modified to Hetzer standard at Texas Military Forces Museum, USA; Hetzer at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland, USA.
Swiss G-13 made to appear as German Hetzer. Picture provided by Jared Grimmer
Since August of 1944, prototypes of Vollkettenaufklarer 38(t) armed with single and twin 20mm Flak 38 L/112.5 gun were tested. In 1945, modified Bergepanzer 38(t) Hetzer armed with 75mm K51 L/24 gun, designated as Vollkettenaufklarer 38(t) (fully-tracked scout) was tested.