Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Panzerkampfwagen III

by Phil Gardocki

The Panzer III gets the short shrift with war gamers. If a player gets a choice of tanks, the Panzer III will almost never be among them. However, it was primarily with this tank that the Germans conquered most of Europe, and took them to their high watermark at Stalingrad and El Alamein. The Panzer IV was intended to spearpoint formations and remove obstacles, while the Panzer III was to engage enemy armor. Early versions weighed 19 tons actually outweighing their contemporary Panzer IV's. 

Panzer III Ausf L
As photographed by the author.
Used with permission from the US Army Ordnance Museum.

The early Panzer III's were armored with 2 cm of armor and armed with a 3.7 cm/L45 gun. The 3.7 cm gun was a compromise, as when the tank was being designed, the 5 cm gun anti tank gun had not yet been developed. The 3.7 cm could penetrate 5 cm of armor at 500 meters. 
But with foresight, the tank chassis was designed wide enough to support a large enough turret ring to handle a 5 cm gun.
Mid range variants, starting with model ‘H’, weighed 20 tons, had 6 cm of frontal armor and was armed with a 5 cm/L42 gun, which could penetrate 7 cm of armor at 500 meters.
The final models, starting with ‘J’, weighed 23 tons, and were armored with 7 cm of armor and had a 5 cm/L60 gun, which could penetrate 7.7 cm of armor at 500 meters. This variant, was almost an equal to the T-34 it was pitted against, but the hull was almost at its limit, and any further upgrades would not be able to keep up with the Soviet upgrades to their equipment. So with Panzer IV's taking over the role as main battle tank, and Panthers on the way, the Panzer III ceased production in 1943. The chassis continued to be produced and was used to make the Sturmgeschutz-III.
Some of the Panzer III's in service were relegated to recon units, while most of the Panzer III’s were converted to other vehicles, including a 7.5 cm L24 infantry support variant, command tanks, and armored recovery vehicles, and a flame throwing model. 
Panzer III A-GSpecificationPanzer III F-MSpecification
Gun3.7cm L46Gun5cm L42 /L60
Weight17-20tonnesWeight23 tonnes
Max Hull Armor2-6 cmMax Hull Armor7 cm
Max Turret Armor3 cmMax Turret Armor5 cm
Engine Size12 literEngine Size12 liter
Top Speed32-40kphTop Speed40

Panzer III with a 5cm L60 Gun.
As photographed by the author.
Used with permission from the US Army Ordnance Museum

Sturmgeschutz III
Armed with the short barreled 7.5cm L24 gun.
As photographed by the author.
Used with permission from the US Army Ordnance Museum

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