Panzerkampfwagen III


Panzerkampfwagen III
Sd. Kfz. 141 – Ausf. A-H (1937-1941)
Sd. Kfz. 141/1 – Ausf. J-M (1941-1943)
Sd. Kfz. 141/2 – Ausf. N (1942-1943)

Panzer III Ausf A
Panzer III Ausf A

Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf A

As early as 1934/35, General Heinz Guderian envisioned two basic types to act as the most numerous equipment for the future German Panzer Divisions. The first vehicle was to be armed with anti-tank gun and two machine guns and second one was to be a support vehicle armed with a larger caliber gun. The first one eventually became known as Panzerkampfwagen III, which was to be a standard tank for the three light companies of a tank battalion. The second one became known as Panzerkampfwagen IV.

In 1935, development orders for a 15-ton full-tracked vehicle based on the specifications by Waffenamt were issued to MAN (Nurnberg), Daimler-Benz AG (Berlin-Marienfelde), Rheinmetall-Borsig (Berlin) and Krupp AG (Essen). In order to maintain secrecy, new vehicle was known as Zugfuhrerwagen (ZW) – platoon commander’s vehicle. The vehicle was designated Versuchkraftfahrzeug 619, Mittlerer Traktor (Medium Tractor) and 3.7cm Geschutz-Panzerwagen. Panzerkampfwagen III’s development began with a conflict between Waffenamt (the Ordnance Department) and the Inspector for Mechanized Troops about the main armament. Waffenamt selected and was satisfied with 37mm gun, while the Inspector for Mechanized Troops demanded 50mm gun. In the end, 37mm gun was chosen as the main armament of the new vehicle. The decision was based on the fact that the infantry was already equipped with standard 37mm Pak 35/36 L/45 anti-tank gun as well as that only one gun and one type of ammunition had to be produced. The turret and turret ring were still capable of mounting heavier gun as it was selected by the Inspector for Mechanized Troops. Armor protection was to be heavier in the front rather than rear since, new vehicle was to be used in forward elements of assault tank formations. The top speed was specified to be 40km/h. The vehicle was to be operated by the crew of five men, with commander, gunner and loader in the turret and the driver and radio operator in the hull front. The communication between crewmembers was through the use of intercom system.Panzer III was the first of German Panzers to be equipped with intercom system for in-tank communications. Later on all of Panzers were equipped with this device which, proved to be very effective during combat.

 

Learn More About The Panzerkampfwagen III from Panzertales


Pz III


Panther


Tiger


Tiger II



 

MKA
MKA

Krupp’s MKA Prototype

Trials and tests of new prototypes took place from 1936 to 1937 on testing grounds in Kummersdorf and Ulm. They resulted in Daimler-Benz design being chosen for full-scale production and in early 1937, Waffenamt ordered Daimler-Benz to produce first series (0-Series) of their design.

Krupp’s ZW prototype designated as MKA featured leafsprings and bogie wheel mountings type of a suspension. In turn, many features of this vehicle were used in the design of Panzerkampfwagen IV, which was designed by Krupp.

PzKpfw III design was composed of four sections – hull, turret, and front superstructure with the opening for the turret and rear superstructure with the engine deck. Each section was of a welded construction and all four were bolted together. The hull was divided into two main compartments divided by a bulkhead. The front compartment housed the gearbox and steering mechanism and the rear one both the fighting and engine compartment. Basic hull, turret, superstructure and crew layout remained unchanged throughout the production life of Panzerkampfwagen III series.

Panzer III
Panzer III
Panzer III
Panzer III

After modifications, first Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf A (1-Serie) was produced in May of 1937, by Daimler-Benz with total of 10 produced until the end of 1937 (chassis numbers 60101-60110). Some sources state that as many as 15 were manufactured. Only eight of Ausf As were armed (and equipped units of 1st, 2nd and 3rd Panzer Division and took part in Anschluss, take-over of Sudetenland and Polish Campaign) and other unarmed Ausf As were used for further testing.

In 1937, Ausf B (2-Serie) was produced by Daimler-Benz with total of 15 produced (chassis numbers 60201-60215). Number of Ausf Bs saw service during the Polish Campaign. In October of 1940, five Ausf B tanks were modified and used as prototypes of Sturmgeschutz III series.

In June of 1937, next variant Ausf C (3a-Serie) was produced by Daimler-Benz and its production ended in January of 1938 with total of 15 produced (chassis numbers 60301-60315). Number of Ausf Cs saw service during the Polish Campaign.

In January of 1938, next variant Ausf D (3b-Serie) was produced by Daimler-Benz and its production ended in 1939 with total of 55 produced (chassis numbers 60221-60225 and 60316-60340). Only 30 Ausf Ds produced in two groups of 15 were armed and other 25 unarmed Ausf Ds were used for further testing. Number of Ausf Ds saw service during the Polish Campaign and in Norway.

Early models of Panzer III (Ausf A, B, C and D) were pre-prototypes of the entire series produced exclusively by Daimler-Benz. All were unsuitable for large-scale production and each new model was an improved version of the previous one. Each model featured different type of suspension e.g. Ausf A – individual coil springs, Ausf B – two sets of leaf springs, Ausf C – three sets of leaf springs and Ausf D – angled leaf springs. Ausf A, B, C and D were powered by 250hp petrol Maybach HL 108 TR engines with 5 or 6 speed Zahnradfabrik gearbox. All early models were armed with 37mm KwK 35/36 L/46.5 gun and three 7.92mm MG 34 machine guns (two in the turret and one in the hull). Their armor protection ranged from 5 to 15mm offering protection only against anti-tank rifle and machine gun fire. The reason behind inadequate armor protection was a result of Daimler-Benz keeping the vehicle in designated weight range of 15 tons. Some of early models were up-armored and had their maximum armor protection increased to 30mm. Ausf A, B, C had simple drum shaped "dustbin" commander’s cupola, while Ausf D had cast cupola similar to that of PzKpfw IV Ausf B.

Few of early Panzer IIIs saw actual combat (with units of 1st, 2nd and 3rd Panzer Division) during the Polish Campaign or were troop tested (1937- February 1940). In February of 1940, existing number of early Panzer IIIs was handed over to NSKK for training purposes. Afterwards, only few Ausf D saw service with PzAbt zbV 40 (along with PzKpfw NbFz VI) during fighting in Norway in April/May of 1940, followed by service with PzAbt zbV 40 in Finland, 1941/42.

Raw Materials Used in Production of PzKpfw III
Steel: 39000.00kg
Tin: 1.40kg
Copper: 60.10kg
Aluminium: 90.40kg
Lead: 71.10kg
Zinc: 49.10kg
Rubber: 125.00kg

In December of 1938, Ausf E (4-serie) entered production and 96 were produced by Daimler-Benz, Henschel and MAN when production ended in October of 1939 (chassis numbers 60401-60496). It was the first PzKpfw III that was produced in significant number. The basic design remained unchanged from its predecessor but it featured new independent torsion bar suspension, designed by Ferdinand Porsche for the automotive industry in 1930s. It was composed of six roadwheels and three return rollers. Ausf E was armed with 37mm KwK 35/36 L/46.5 gun and three 7.92mm MG 34 machine guns (two in the turret and one in the hull). Its armor protection ranged from 12 to 30mm. During production escape hatches were installed on both sides of the hull and vision port was added on the superstructure side for the radio-operator. Driver’s visor was provided with an upper and lower sliding shutter, which could be closed together. Also two-piece side hatches were installed in the turret. Unlike its predecessors, Ausf E was powered by new 300hp petrol Maybach HL120TR engine with a new Maybach Variorex 10 speed gearbox. It was also heavier than all previous models, which were in 16 ton range and Ausf E was 19.5 tons heavy. From August of 1940 until 1942, all Ausf E tanks were rearmed with 50mm KwK 38 L/42 gun mounted in an external mantlet housing one MG. At the same time, armor protection was increased by installation of 30mm armor plates to the hull front and rear as well as superstructure front. During service number of Ausf E tanks was also reworked to Ausf F standard.

In September of 1939, another new variant – Ausf F (5-serie) entered production. Until July of 1940, 435 were produced by Daimler-Benz, Henschel, MAN, Alkett and FAMO (chassis numbers 61001-61650). It was refined version of Ausf E and it did not feature any significant modifications or changes other than improved Maybach HL120TRM engine and modified upper hull nose (air intakes). First 335 Ausf F tanks were armed with 37mm KwK 35/36 L/46.5 gun and three 7.92mm MG 34 machine guns (two in the turret and one in the hull). Some last 100 tanks were factory armed with 50mm KwK 38 L/42 gun mounted in an external mantlet housing one MG.Ausf F vehicles were fitted with a hull rear mounted rack of five smoke generators remotely released from the turret. Some vehicles were also mounted with a stowage box at the rear of the turret. From August of 1940 until 1942, all 37mm Ausf F just as Ausf E tanks were rearmed with 50mm KwK 38 L/42 gun. They also had their armor protection improved at the same time as it was done to Ausf E tanks. Only 40 Ausf F tanks with 50mm KwK 38 L/42 guns were rushed into service before the end of the French Campaignand saw little or no combat. There is still controversy surrounding thisas it is reported that first PzKpfw III armed with 50mm gunsentered production in July of 1940.First production Sturmgeschutz III assault guns / tank destroyers were based on Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf F chassis and components. In 1942/43, number of Ausf F tanks was rearmed with 50mm KwK 39 L/60 gun.Rearmed and up-armored Ausf F tanks remained in service as late as June of 1944 (e.g. 116th Panzer Division in Normandy).

Interesting fact is that the study reportof captured PzKpfw III Ausf F made by the British in 1942, was then sent to United States Army Ordnance Department where it was decided to utilize copy of German torsion bar suspension system in future American tanks (e.g. M18 Gun Motor Carriage, M24 Chaffee, M26 Pershing etc.).

In 1940/41, attempts were made to standardize the production of Panzer III and Panzer IV. Few prototypes based on Panzer III Ausf G/H with new large overlapping roadwheels and FAMO suspension were produced – PzKpfw III Ausf G/H mit Schachtellaufwerk. Since 1940, prototypes were used for testing and training purposes. Further development was halted and in 1943/44, prototypes were fitted with dozers and were used to clean up the streets of bombed cities. This suspension was later adopted in Tiger and Panther.

PzKpfw III Ausf G - FAMO
PzKpfw III Ausf G - FAMO

PzKpfw III Ausf G/H mit Schachtellaufwerk
Prototype with new large roadwheels and FAMO suspension.

From April of 1940 to February of 1941, 600 new Ausf G (6-serie) tanks were produced by Daimler-Benz, Henschel, MAN, Alkett, Wegmann, MNH and FAMO (chassis numbers 65001-65950). Ausf G was a slight improvement over previous Ausf E and Ausf F tanks. Some 50 Ausf G tanks were armed with 37mm KwK 35/36 L/46.5 gun mounted in an internal mantlet, while the rest with 50mm KwK 38 L/42 gun mounted in an external mantlet. Both 37mm and 50mm tanks had additional two MG 34 machine guns, one in the turret and other in the hull. Armor protection ranged from 12mm to 30mm, although majority of the protection ranged from 21mm to 30mm. Also new pivoting visor for the driver (Fahrersehklappe 30) was installed. The turret was modified and mounted on the roof with a fan exhaust as well as one signal port was eliminated. Mid-production vehicles were mounted with new type of commander’s cupola as used in PzKpfw IV Ausf E, F and G, which became standard on all later models of PzKpfw III. Late production vehicles had wider 400mm tracks instead of standard 360mm tracks. Ausf G was the first to be mounted with the "Rommelkiste" (Rommelbox) – turret mounted storage bin (Gepack Kasten), which then became the standard on all PzKpfw IIIs. From August of 1940 until 1942, all 37mm Ausf G tanks just as Ausf E and F tanks were rearmed with 50mm KwK 38 L/42 gun. Vehicles send to North Africa were equipped with additional air filters and different cooling fan reduction ratio. They were designated Ausf G(Tp), Tp being short for Tropisch / Trop / Tropen – tropical. Small number of Ausf G tanks remained in service as late as September of 1944.

In October of 1940, Ausf H (7-serie) entered production. It was produced by MAN, Alkett, Henschel, Wegmann, MNH and MIAG until April of 1941 with 308 produced (chassis numbers 66001-66650). Ausf H featured newly designed turret to mount 50mm gun with a single 30mm armor rear plate. Armor protection ranged from 10mm to 30mm but hull front and rear as well as superstructure front had 30mm armor plates bolted on to them increasing the protection. The increase in armor protection in Ausf H neutralized the threat of British 2pdr, Soviet 45mm and American 37mm anti-tank guns. The new six speed Maybach SSG 77 gearbox replaced previously used Variorex. In addition, suspension system was slightly modified and new sprocket and idler wheels were used in Ausf H. Consequently, of weight increase to 21.8 tons due to armor protection increase, torsion bars were strengthen. Originally, Ausf H was armed with 50mm KwK 38 L/42 gun and two MG 34 machine guns but in 1942/43, they were rearmed with 50mm KwK 39 L/60 gun.

Ausf E, F, G and H were designated as Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf E, F, G and H / Sd.Kfz.141.

As of May 10th of 1940, Panzertruppe had only 381 Panzer III models in service, but 135 were lost during the Blitzkrieg in the West.

PzKpfw III Ausf E from 5th Panzer Division
PzKpfw III Ausf E from 5th Panzer Division
PzKpfw III Ausf E
PzKpfw III Ausf E

In March of 1941, last Sd.Kfz.141 and first Sd.Kfz.141/1 Panzerkampfwagen III tank – Ausf J (8-serie) entered production. It was produced by Daimler-Benz, MAN, Alkett, Henschel, Wegmann, MNH and MIAG until July of 1942 with 2616 produced (chassis numbers 68001-69100 and 72001-74100). Ausf J had its armor protection significantly improved as it ranged from 10mm to 50mm. Increase in armor was accompanied by installation of new driver’s visor (Fahrersehklappe 50) and ballmount (Kugelblende 50) for a 7.92mm MG 34 machine gun in the hull. New type of front access hatches was installed along with new air intakes on the hull front. From April of 1942, 20mm spaced armor was added to the gun mantlet and/or superstructure front. 1549 vehicles produced from March of 1941 to July of 1942 were armed with 50mm KwK 38 L/42 gun and two MG 34 machine guns. Those vehicles were designated as PzKpfw III Ausf J / Sd.Kfz.141. 1067 vehicles produced from December of 1941 to July of 1942, armed with 50mm KwK 39 L/60 and two MG 34 machine guns. Those vehicles were designated as PzKpfw III Ausf J / Sd.Kfz.141/1. The only difference between both models was the main armament and ammunition stowage for 84 in contrast to previous 99 rounds. When encountered in North Africa, British nicknamed 50mm L/60 Ausf J – "Mark III Special"The 50mm L/60 gun was a significant improvement over the original 37mm gun, although it was still inadequate to deal with American M4 Sherman and Soviet T-34/76 tank.In 1941/42, there was an unsuccessful attempt by Krupp to mount Ausf J with Panzerkampfwagen IV Ausf G‘s turret to create new Panzerkampfwagen III variant designated Ausf K.

From August to November of 1942, 81 Ausf J tanks were produced as command tanks – Panzerbefehlswagen III mit 5cm KwK L/42 / Sd.Kfz.141. From March to September of 1943, additional 104 Ausf J were converted as well. The vehicle was basic Ausf J tank but lacked hull machine gun and carried less ammunition (75 rounds). It was fitted additional radio equipment and periscope.

In June of 1942, Ausf L tank entered production. 653 were produced by Daimler-Benz, MAN, Alkett, Henschel, Wegmann, MNH and MIAG until December of 1942 (chassis numbers 74101-75500). Ausf L was armed with 50mm KwK 39 L/60 gun and two 7.92mm MG 34 machine guns. Externally it was almost identical to late model Ausf J as it was developed by modifying it. The main difference was new torsion bar gun counter balance, which replaced the original the coil spring gun recoil mechanism. Armor protection of the front turret was increased from 30mm to 57mm and 20mm spaced armor was installed on the superstructure front and in many cases on the gun mantlet. The design of the vehicle was simplified as rear deck was modified (air-intakes and hatches) and early in production hull escape hatches, loader’s vision port on the mantlet and turret side ports were removed. Ausf L was also mounted with new special system to transfer heated engine coolant from one vehicle to another. Single Ausf L was mounted with an experimental 75/55mm tapered-bore KwK0725 gun and was designated as PzKpfw III Ausf L mit Waffe 0725. Vehicles send to North Africa were equipped with additional air filters, modified oil filters different cooling fan reduction ratio and were designated as Ausf L(Tp). Ausf L was also first to be mounted with anti-aircraft machine gun mount (Fliegerbeschussgerat 41/42) on commander’s cupola. This became standard on al new PzKpfw III tanks and was mounted on older models during service. Many were mounted with 5mm hull and turret armor skirts (Schurzen).

From October of 1942 to February of 1943, 250 new Ausf M (10-serie) tanks were produced by Wegmann, MIAG, MAN and MNH (chassis numbers 76101-77800). Ausf M was late production model Ausf L mounted with new wading equipment allowing wading up to depth of approximately 1.3m, in contrast to previous 0.8-0.9m. This led to all air inlets and outlets as well as other openings and joints being sealed, while modified muffler with closure-valve was installed high on the hull rear. The new system was developed and modified version used in Tauchpanzer III submersible wading tanks. The hull rear mounted rack of five smoke generators was replaced by three 90mm NbK dischargers mounted forward on both sides of the turret. Ausf M just as Ausf L was armed with 50mm KwK 39 L/60 gun and two 7.92mm MG 34 machine guns. Vehicles produced in 1943 were factory mounted with 5mm hull and turret armor skirts (Schurzen). Large number of Ausf M was converted to either Sturmgeschütz III or Ausf N.

Panzer III Ausf E/F
Panzer III Ausf E/F

Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf E/F in Russian village.

From February of 1943 to April of 1943, 100 Ausf M tanks produced by MIAG in Braunsweig (chassis numbers 77609-77708) were converted by Wegmann in Kassel to Flammpanzer – flame-thrower tanks. New vehicles were designated as PzKpfw III (Fl) / Sd.Kfz 141/3. They were also commonly known as Flammpanzer III or Panzerflammwagen III. It was unmodified Ausf M tank with additional 30mm to 50mm armor plates welded on for protection to the hull front. This was done, as Flammpanzer III tanks had to get closer to their targets being vulnerable to enemy fire. In contrast to regular tanks, it was operated by three men crew composed of commander/flame gunner, radio operator/hull gunner and driver. The main gun and internal ammunition stowage were replaced with the flame-thrower and fuel tanks. This vehicle was armed with 14mm Flammenwerfer flame-thrower and two 7.92mm MG 34 machine guns. The flame-thrower was mounted in place of the original 50mm gun and concealed in a thick 1.5m long pipe made to appear as standard armament. The flame-thrower could lowered 8 degrees and raised 20 degrees. Each vehicle carried some 1020 liters of inflammable oil (Flammol) in two tanks inside the vehicle. Oil was pumped into the pipe by Koebe pump driven by two-stroke DKW engine and was ignited by an electric charge (Smitskerzen). The supply of oil allowed some 125 one second or some 80 to 81 two to three seconds long bursts. The maximum range of the flame-thrower was 60m using ignited oil and 50m using cold oil. The range also depended on the weather conditions.

PzKpfw III in Africa
PzKpfw III in Africa

Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf H of 5th Leichte Division (originally 5th Panzer Regiment of 3rd Panzer Division), Libya, mid 1941.

Flammpanzer III was designed in mind with fighting in the urban areas such as Stalingrad, but it was never to reach its destination. Eventually, Flammpanzer III equipped Panzer Regiment’s (Panzer Abteilung) Flame-thrower Platoons (Panzer-Flamm-Zug), each with seven vehicles. A report dated May 5th of 1941 gives the following distribution of the vehicles:28 to Panzer Division Grossdeutschland, 15 to 6th Panzer Division, 14 to 1st Panzer Division, 14 to 24th Panzer Division, 14 to 26th Panzer Division and 7 to 16th Panzer Division along with single vehicle to Schule Wunsdorf. Report from 1943, states that from March to December, Flammpanzer III tanks were serving with following Panzer Divisions: 1st, 6th, 11th, 14th, 24th and Grossdeutschland in Russia and 16th and 26th in Italy. In July of 1943, 41 flame-thrower tanks were reported in service with 6th, 10th and Grossdeutschland Panzer Divisions in preparation for the attack on Kursk.Flammpanzer III’s design proved to be unsuccessful and vehicles returned for repairs (35) were rebuilt into standard combat tanks or Sturmgeschutz III assault guns / tank destroyers. In November of 1944, only 10 out of original 100 were repaired and issued to Panzer-Flamm-Kompanie 351, which saw service as late as April of 1945 with Heeres Gruppe Sud. Today, Panzerkampfwagen III (Fl) (chassis number 77651) captured in Italy can be seen in Koblenz Museum in Germany after being transferred to the museum from Aberdeen Proving Grounds in U.S.A.

In June of 1942, last PzKpfw III model entered production. New model Ausf N was produced until August of 1943 by Henschel, Wegmann, MNH, MIAG and MAN (chassis numbers 73851-77800). Ausf N tanks were produced on Ausf J (3), L (447) and M (213) chassis with total of 663 made. 37 additional Ausf N tanks were converted from rebuilt older PzKpfw III tanks. PzKpfw III Ausf N was also known as Sturmpanzer III. Ausf N was the same as Ausf J, L and M with the main difference being its main armament. It was armed with short 75mm KwK 37 L/24, originally used in PzKpfw IV Ausf A to F1 tanks, which then rearmed with longer 75mm guns. Additional armament consisted of standard two MG 34 machine guns. The internal ammunition stowage was modified and 56 (based on Ausf L chassis) or 64 (based on Ausf M chassis) rounds were carried. Ausf N did not have spaced armor as previous models because of the weight of the new 75mm gun. Late production vehicles were fitted with modified type of commander’s cupola with single hatch instead of two-piece one as well as one-piece side turret hatches. Number of late vehicles was mounted with commander’s cupola used in PzKpfw IV Ausf G tanks. Vehicles produced from March of 1943 were factory mounted with 5mm hull and turret armor skirts (Schurzen). In addition, vehicles produced from early 1943 were factory applied with Zimmerit – anti-magentic paste. PzKpfw III Ausf N tanks were used for close support role. They were either assigned to Tiger Battalions (sPzAbt/sSSPzAbt) as a way to protect them from enemy infantry or to Panzer-Grenadier Divisions. Some source also state that variant designated Ausf O existed, although there is no proof of its existence.

Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf L
Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf L

Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf L

The interesting fact is that in 1938, work began on the vehicles which were to replace newly introduced Panzerkampfwagen III and Panzerkampfwagen IV.Daimler-Benz was awarded contract for a new tank, which was to replace Panzerkampfwagen III – VK 2001 (III). It was a completely new design with new chassis and hull layout.It was also designated as GBK – Kampfwagen des Generalbevollmaechtigen (Battle Tank for the Commision for Standardization of Automotive Designs). The work on this tankstopped in December of 1941 and all efforts were focused on the development of a heavier tank – Panther.

Some of the later Panzer III variants were fitted with turret mounted storage bins (Gepack Kasten).Very common were the canister racks mounted on the turret and/or at the rear of the hull. During early stages of Operation Barbarossa in 1941, Panzer IIIs were equipped with single-axle trailers carrying extra fuel in order to increase their radius of operation.During production, PzKpfw III’s design underwent many changes including various modifications made on the turret (e.g. cupola, gun mantlet, vision slots, hatches, armor skirts) and hull (e.g. escape hatch, armor skirts) and superstructure (e.g. air intakes, spaced armor, headlights arrangement) components. Since mid 1943, Panzer IIIs were mounted with Schurzen – 5mm armor skirts. During service and repairs, many Panzer III tanks were up-armored, rearmed and re-equipped with new equipment and components creating completely non-standard variants. Vehicles send to North Africa were equipped with additional air filters and different cooling fan reduction ratio. They were designated as (Tp), Tp being short for Tropisch / Trop / Tropen – tropical.

Panzer III Ausf N
Panzer III Ausf N

PzKpfw III Ausf N / (Sturmpanzer III) / Sd.Kfz. 141/2

Panzerkampfwagen III saw action in small numbers during the invasion of Poland in September of 1939. Panzer III was designed as platoon commander’s vehicle (Zugfuhrerwagen) and was Germany’s first true main/medium battle tank. Design of Panzer III came from lessons learned from the combat tested Panzer I and Panzer II. Panzer III formed the bulk of the Panzer Divisions’ strength during early years of war. By October of 1943, only five Panzer Divisions on the Eastern Front had one or more Panzer Company equipped with Panzer IIIs. By late 1944, only 79 Panzer IIIs were in service with frontline units on the Eastern Front. Number of PzKpfw IIIs remained in service until the end of the war in places like Norway and Holland.

Panzerkampfwagen III’s production was slow and ceased in August of 1943. In the early years, gaps were filled with Czech PzKpfw 35(t) and PzKpfw 38(t), which possessed similar combat value. Its design was also a great help in the development of its bigger brother Panzerkampfwagen IV and shared many common parts with it.

Types Ausf A-J(early) (1936-1941) of Panzer III were called "Short" and types Ausf J(late)-N (1941-1943) were called "Long". Overall around 6000 Panzerkampfwagen IIIs (long and short) were produced. Majority of PzKpfw IIIs was produced by Alkett along with Daimler-Benz, FAMO, Henschel & Sohn, MAN, MIAG, Waggonfabrik Wegmann and MNH.

Panzer III Ausf F
Panzer III Ausf F

Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf F with 50mm L/42 gun.
From the Collection of the Patton Museum, Ft. Knox, Kentucky.

Sd.Kfz.141 (Short)
Ausf A 1937 37mm L/45
Ausf B 1937 37mm L/45
Ausf C 1937/38 37mm L/45
Ausf D 1938 37mm L/45
Ausf E 1938/39 37mm L/45 (early) / 50mm L/42 (late)
Ausf F 1939/40 37mm L/45 (early) / 50mm L/42 (late)
Ausf G 1940/41 37mm L/45 (early) / 50mm L/42 (late)
Ausf H 1940/41 50mm L/42 (early) / 50mm L/60 (late)
Ausf J 1941/42 50mm L/42 (early)
Sd.Kfz.141/1 (Long)
Ausf J 1941/42 50mm L/60 (late)
Ausf L 1942 50mm L/60
Ausf M 1942/43 50mm L/60
Sd.Kfz.141/2 (Long)
Ausf N / (Sturmpanzer III) 1942/43 75mm L/24
Sd.Kfz.141/3 (Long)
Ausf M / (Flamm) 1943 14mm Flammenwerfer

 

Panzer III saw an extensive service on all fronts until late 1943, when it was totally replaced by Panzerkampfwagen IV.As a common practice, Panzer III’s chassis/components became a base for few conversions and prototypes. By 1943 standards Panzer III was obsolete and lost its combat effectiveness what resulted in many being converted to perform various functions.

Panzerbeobachtungswagen III
Panzerbeobachtungswagen III

Panzerbeobachtungswagen III Ausf G.

From February of 1942 to April of 1944, 262 Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf E/F/Gs were up-armored and converted into Artillerie Panzerbeobachtungswagen III (Sd.Kfz.143) – observation vehicles which served with Wespe and Hummel batteries until the end of the war. Panzerbeobachtungswagen III had a dummy gun mounted and in the place of original gun, Kugelblende (ballmount) for a 7.92mm MG34 machine gun was installed. Sd.Kfz.143 had a crew of five and was equipped with powerful radio equipment.

 

In 1943, some Ausf L and Mswere converted into turretless Pionierpanzerwagen III – engineer tanks mounted with additional equipment. In mid 1944, 176(167) Panzer IIIs (including Ausf E, F and G) were converted into Bergepanzer IIIs – recovery vehicles fitted with additional equipment. Also in 1943/44 some number of early Panzer IIIs was converted into Schlepper – artillery tractors and Munitionspanzer – ammunition carriers.

One of the most interesting prototypes based Panzer III’s chassis was Minenraumpanzer III – mine clearing/mine destroyer tank developed by Krupp. It proved to be unsuccessful and never entered production.

In October of 1943, prototype of PzKpfw III Ausf N als Schienen-Kettenfahrzeug was tested. Three Ausf Ns (mounted with railway suspension by Sauer Werke of Vienna) were converted to travel by rail at maximum speed of 100km/h. They were to be used to protect the rail network behind the frontlines in East. Only three prototypes were produced but further development of this project was cancelled.

Minenraumpanzer III
Minenraumpanzer III

Minenraumpanzer III / Minenraumgerat mit PzKpfw Antrieb.

From June of 1938 to February of 1943, number of Panzer IIIs was converted by Daimler-Benz to Panzerbefehlswagens III Ausf D1 (30), Ausf E (45) and Ausf H (175) (Sd.Kfz.266-268) command tanks equipped with extra radios and additional equipment and saw active service until the end of the war. Command tanks were mounted with a dummy gun and were armed only with a single 7.92mm MG machine gun. 185 Panzerbefehlswagen III mit 5cm KwK L/42 (based on Ausf J) and 50 Ausf K (based on Ausf L) were armed with 50mm L/42 and 50mm L/60 guns respectively.

Variant: Production Period: Number Produced:
Ausf A 1937 15
Ausf B 1937 15
Ausf C 1937/38 15
Ausf D 1938 30
Ausf E 1938/39 96
Ausf F 1939/40 435
Ausf G 1940/41 600
Ausf H 1940/41 308
Ausf J (early) 1941/42 1549
Ausf J (late) 1941/42 1067
Ausf L 1942 653
Ausf M 1942/43 250
Ausf N 1942/43 700

 

Turrets (110) removed from PzKpfw IIIs converted to other vehicles were used in fortifications of the Atlantic Wall and Hitler’s Line in Italy. In 1945, it was decided to utilize obsolete at the time PzKpfw III and mount it withWirbelwind or Ostwind turrets, designated as Flakpanzer III. 90 were ordered but the end of the war terminated the production.

Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf H mounted with 150mm s.I.G gun.
Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf H mounted with 150mm s.I.G gun.

PzKpfw III Ausf H mounted with 150mm s.I.G.33 gun, North Africa.

The most interesting conversion was done by German troops in North Africa, who converted damaged Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf H to 150mm s.I.G.33 gun carrier by using components (such as gun itself, gun shield, superstructure sides with tool stowage and ammunition racks) from Sturmpanzer II Bison (lengthened version).

Two PzKpfw III tanks were also sold to the Soviet Union in the Summer of 1940 under the Ribbentrop-Molotov treaty, where they were tested along with early T-34/76 tanks. German PzKpfw III proved to be faster than Soviet T-34/76 and BT-7, reaching maximum speed of 69km/h. Soviet T-34 was far superior in armored protection and armament but lacked in ergonomics and overall reliability, when compared to German PzKpfw III tanks. Also PzKpfw III was less noisy than Soviet T-34 – e.g. T-34 could be heard from 450m, while PzKpfw III from 150-200m.

Panzerkampfwagen III was also exported to other nations especially Germany’s Allies or pro-German states. First country to receive PzKpfw III was Hungary (10), followed by Romania (11 Ausf N), Bulgaria (10 Ausf N) and Slovakia (7 Ausf N). Small number of Ausf L and N tanks was also exported to Croatia. Large number (56) was ordered by Turkey but transaction was never finalized due to the war situation, although supposedly some (20-22?) were delivered.

 Captured Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf G and IV Ausf F1 tanks in Soviet service.
Captured Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf G and IV Ausf F1 tanks in Soviet service.

PzKpfw III Ausf G and IV Ausf F1 of Lt. N.Baryshev’s platoon
from 107th Independent Tank Battalion
Volkhov Front, July 6th of 1942.

From 1941 to 1943, Russians captured large numbers of PzKpfw III, Sturmgeschutz III and PzKpfw IV. Some were pressed into temporary service (e.g. being used as "Trojan Horses" or as "bait") , while some were converted to assault guns designated SU-76i and SG-122A.

Interesting fact is that Polish Tank Platoon of the Carpathian Lancers received captured (7 or 8) PzKpfw III for training purposes, while in Egypt in August of 1942.

The most successful conversion based Panzerkampfwagen III’s chassis was Sturmgeschutz III – assault gun/tank destroyer series, which remained in service with Finnish Army as late as 1967.

Norwegian PzKpfw IIIs
Norwegian PzKpfw IIIs

Norwegian PzKpfw III tanks at Trandum, 1949.
Photo and information provided by Thorleif Olsson.

After the war ended, some 32 PzKpfw III were used by Norway along with Stug III Ausf Gs.
For more info visit Norwegian Panzers article.

Small number of PzKpfw III tanks was also used by Czechoslovakia, including 4 rebuild Flammpanzer III tanks.

Panzerkampfwagen III gained a reputation for being a highly reliable and effective vehicle, which shaped tank development plans of both German and Allied tank builders. It was the best German tank in the first part of the war, but by 1943 it was largely obsolete.

(U-Panzer / Submersible Tank)
(U-Panzer / Submersible Tank)

Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf H(U) – Tauchfahig
(U-Panzer / Submersible Tank)

This U-Panzer belonged to the 18th Panzer Division’s 18th Panzer Regiment. This photo was taken during the crossing of the River Bug at Patulin on 22nd June of 1941. During the preparation for invasion of England – Operation Seelöwe (Sealion), Panzer III and Panzer IVwere converted into submersible tanks able to travel on the bottom of body of water at the depths of 6 to 15 meters. From June to October of 1940, 160 Panzer III Ausf F/G/H and 8 Panzerbefehlswagen III Ausf E along with 42 Panzer IV Ausf Ds were converted into U-Panzers / Tauchpanzers. After extensive tests and modifications U-Panzer were ready for action. Since Operation Sealion was never realized, Tauchpanzer IIIs and IVs were used during Operation Barbarossa (crossing river Bug at Patulin), in service with 3rd (6th Panzer Regiment) and 18th Panzer Division. It was also planned to use U-Panzers in never realized invasion on the island of Malta.

Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf M – Gallery I


Specifications

Model: Ausf H Ausf L/M
Weight: 21800kg 22700kg
Crew: 5 men 5 men
Engine: Maybach HL 120 TRM / 12-cylinder / 265hp Maybach HL 120 TRM / 12-cylinder / 265hp
Speed: Road: 40km/h
Cross-Country: 20km/h
Road: 40km/h
Cross-Country: 20km/h
Range: Road: 165km
Cross-Country: 105km
Road: 155km
Cross-Country: 95km
Fuel Capacity: 320 litres 320 litres
Lenght: 5.52m (with the gun) 6.41m (with the gun)
5.56m (w/o the gun)
Width: 2.95m 2.95m
Height: 2.50m 2.50m
Armament: 50mm KwK 38 L/42
2 x 7.92mm MG34
(1 x MG – hull)
(1 x MG – coax)
50mm KwK 39 L/60
2 x 7.92mm MG34
(1 x MG – hull)
(1 x MG – coax)
Ammo: 50mm – 99 rounds
7.92mm – 2700 rounds
50mm – 92 rounds
7.92mm – 3750 rounds
Armor (mm/angle): Front Turret: 30/13
Front Upper Hull: 30+30/90
Front Lower Hull: 30+30/23
Side Turret: 30/25
Side Upper Hull: 30/0
Side Lower Hull: 30/0
Rear Turret: 30/13
Rear Upper Hull: 30/30
Rear Lower Hull: 30+30/8
Turret Top / Bottom: 10/89
Upper Hull Top / Bottom: 17/77
Lower Hull Top / Bottom: 16/90
Gun Mantlet: 37/0
Front Turret: 57/15
Front Upper Hull: 50+20/9
Front Lower Hull: 50/21
Side Turret: 30/25
Side Upper Hull: 30/0
Side Lower Hull: 30/0
Rear Turret: 30/12
Rear Upper Hull: 50/17
Rear Lower Hull: 50/9
Turret Top / Bottom: 10/83
Upper Hull Top / Bottom: 18/79
Lower Hull Top / Bottom: 16/90
Gun Mantlet: 50+20/0

 

50mm KwK 38 L/42
Penetration of Armor Plate at 30 degrees from Vertical.
Ammunition: 100m 500m 1000m 1500m 2000m
Panzergranate 39 54mm 46mm 36mm 28mm 22mm
Panzergranate 40 96mm 58mm 0mm 0mm 0mm
 
 
Pzgr.39 (APCBC) – Armor Piercing Composite Ballistic Cap
Pzgr.40 (APCR) – Armor Piercing Composite Rigid (Tungsten Core)

 

50mm KwK 39 L/60
Penetration of Armor Plate at 30 degrees from Vertical.
Ammunition: 100m 500m 1000m 1500m 2000m
Panzergranate 39 67mm 57mm 44mm 34mm 26mm
Panzergranate 40 130mm 72mm 38mm 0mm 0mm
 
 
Pzgr.39 (APCBC) – Armor Piercing Composite Ballistic Cap
Pzgr.40 (APCR) – Armor Piercing Composite Rigid (Tungsten Core)

Conversions

 

  • PzKpfw III (Flamm) Ausf. M (Sd. Kfz. 141/3) – flame-thrower tank,
  • Befehlswagen III Ausf. D1 (Sd.Kfz 267-268) – command tank,
  • Befehlswagen III Ausf. E (Sd. Kfz. 266-268) – command tank,
  • Befehlswagen III Ausf. H (Sd. Kfz. 266-268) – command tank,
  • Befehlswagen III Ausf. K – command tank,
  • Beobachtungswagen III – observation vehicle (Sd.Kfz.143),
  • Bergepanzer III (Sd. Kfz. 143) – recovery vehicle,
  • Sturmgeschütz III Ausf A to E (Sd.Kfz.141),
  • Sturmgeschütz III (40) Ausf F/G (Sd.Kfz.141/2),
  • Sturmhaubitze 42 (Sd.Kfz. 142/2) 105mm L/28 (L/30) – assault howitzer,
  • Stug 33 – 150mm howitzer carrier – infantry support,
  • Munitionspanzerwagen III Ausf E/F/G – ammo carrier,
  • Munition Schlepper – ammo carrier for Ferdinand/Elephant units,
  • Pionierpanzerwagen III – engineer’s tank,
  • Panzer III Ausf N Schienen-Kettenfahrzeug – rail tank,
  • PzKpfw III Ausf G/H mit Schachtellaufwerk – prototype / dozer tank,
  • Panzer III Ausf. E(U) (37mm gun) – submersible tank,
  • Panzer III Ausf. F(U) (50mm L/42 gun) – submersible tank,
  • Panzer III Ausf D1(U) – submersible command tank,
  • Panzer III Ausf H(U) – submersible command tank,
  • Minenraumpanzer III – mine clearing vehicle (prototype),
  • Flakpanzer III (planned),
  • Artillerie Schlepper – artillery tractor,
  •  


    Related Articles




    Weider History Network:  Achtung Panzer! | HistoryNet | Armchair General
    Today in History | Picture of the Day | Daily History Quiz | Military History Forums

    Copyright © 1996-2012. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.
    Contact Us | Advertise With Us | Subscription Help