Panzer III was the common name of a medium tank that was developed in the 1930s by Germany and was used extensively in World War II
About this creation
The official German designation was Panzerkampfwagen III Sd Kfz. 141 (abbreviated PzKpfw III) translating as "armoured fighting vehicle". It was intended to fight other armoured fighting vehicles and serve alongside the infantry-supporting Panzer IV. However, as the Germans faced the formidable T-34, stronger anti-tank guns were needed. Since the Panzer IV had a bigger turret ring, the role was reversed.
On January 11, 1934, following specifications laid down by Heinz Guderian, the Army Weapons Department drew up plans for a medium tank with a maximum weight of 24,000 kilograms and a top speed of 35 kilometres per hour. It was intended as the main tank of the German Panzer divisions, capable of engaging and destroying opposing tank forces.
Much of the early development work on the Panzer III was a quest for a suitable suspension. Several varieties of leaf-spring suspensions were tried on Ausf. A through Ausf. D before the torsion-bar suspension of the Ausf. E was standardized. The Panzer III, along with the Soviet KV heavy tank, was one of the first tanks to use this suspension design.
The Panzer III was intended as the primary battle tank of the German forces. However, when it initially met the KV heavy tank and T-34 tanks it proved to be inferior in both armor and gun power. To meet the growing need to counter these tanks, the Panzer III was up-gunned with a longer, more powerful 50-millimeter cannon and received more armour although this failed to effectively address the problem caused by the KV tankdesigns. As a result, production of self-propelled guns, as well as the up-gunning of the Panzer IV was initiated.
The Panzer III seen above is the Panzer III Ausf. F version. This was the production model made from 1939-40. The previous versions were few in number and served as test models, serving in very limited numbers in Norway and Poland. The Panzer III Ausf. F had the characteristic short barreled 3.7 cm KwK 36 L/46.5, the tank version of the PaK 36.
This is the Panzer III Ausf. J model. It featured thicker frontal armor (50mm as opposed to 30mm) and a bigger gun, the 5 cm KwK 39 L/60.
The Panzer III Ausf. A through C had 15 millimeters of steel armor on all sides with 10 millimeters on the top and 5 millimeters on the bottom. This was quickly determined to be insufficient, and was upgraded to 30 millimeters on the front, sides and rear in the Ausf. D, E, F, and G models, with the H model having a second 30 millimeter layer of hardened steel applied to the front and rear hull. The Ausf. J model had a solid 50-millimeter plate on the front and rear, while the Ausf. L, and the M models had an additional layer of 20 millimeters of armor on the front hull and turret. This additional frontal armor gave the Panzer III frontal protection from most British and Soviet anti-tank guns at all but close ranges. The sides were still vulnerable to many enemy weapons including anti-tank rifles at close ranges.
The Ausf. A to early Ausf. F were equipped with a 3.7 cm KwK 36 L/46.5 which proved adequate during the campaigns of 1939 and 1940 but the later Ausf. F to Ausf. J were upgraded with the 5 cm KwK 38 L/42. The longer the barrel, the more propellent can be put in a shell, resulting in a higher muzzle velocity and therefore better penetration.
The Panzer III was an excellent tank for its time, outclassing many of its contemporaries. The Panzer III was used in the campaigns against Poland, France, the Soviet Union and in North Africa. A handful were still in use in Normandy, Anzio, Norway, Finland and in Operation Market Garden in 1944.
This is the Panzer III Ausf. N model. It was another up-gunned model of the Panzer III this time featuring a 7.5 cm KwK 37 L/24 gun, due to 7.5 cm gun's ability to fire HEAT rounds. It also featured side-skirts and standoff armor on the turret.
Around the time of Operation Barbarossa, the Panzer III was numerically the most important German tank. At this time the majority of the available tanks (including re-armed Ausf. E and F, plus new Ausf. G and H models) had the 50 millimeter KwK 38 L/42 cannon which also equipped the majority of the tanks in North Africa. Initially, the Panzer IIIs were outclassed and outnumbered by Soviet T-34 and KV heavy tank. However, the most numerous Soviet tanks were the T-26 and BT light tanks. This, along with superior German tactical skill, crew training, and the good ergonomics of the Panzer III all contributed to a rough 6:1 favourable kill ratio for German tanks of all types in 1941.
With the appearance of the T-34 and KV heavy tank, rearming the Panzer IIIs with a longer, more powerful 50 mm cannon was prioritised. The T-34 was generally invulnerable in frontal engagements with the Panzer III until the 50 mm KwK 39 L/60 gun was introduced on the Panzer III Ausf. J in the spring of 1942. This could penetrate the T-34's frontal armor at ranges under 500 meters. Against the KV tanks it was a threat if armed with special high velocity tungsten rounds.
By the end of the war, the Panzer III had almost no frontline use and many vehicles had been returned to the factories for conversion into StuG III assault guns, which were in high demand due to the defensive warfare style adopted by the German Army by then.
Specs (Ausf F.)
Weight - 23 tons
Length - 6.41 m
Width - 2.9 m
Height - 2.5 m
Crew - 5 (commander, gunner, loader, driver, radio operator/bow machine-gunner)
Armor - 5–70 mm
Main armament - either 1 × 3.7 cm KwK 36 or 1 × 5 cm KwK 38
Secondary armament - 2-3 × 7.92 mm MG34
Engine - 12-cylinder Maybach HL 120 TRM w/260 hp
Range - 155 km
Speed - Road: 40 km/h. Off-road: 20 km/h