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"German Antitank and Tank Guns" from Intelligence Bulletin

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]   A report on German antitank and tank guns, from the Intelligence Bulletin, May 1943.

[Editor's Note: The following article is wartime information on enemy tactics and equipment published for Allied soldiers. In most cases, more accurate data is available in postwar publications.]



Since 1939 the German Army has been making a tremendous effort to bring into service a satisfactory antitank gun for every type of combat unit. Even the air-borne and parachute troops have been provided with light, tapered-bore weapons. A most important development is that the German Army is no longer dependent on the German Air Force for its heavy antiaircraft-antitank gun, the 88-mm. Formerly, the Army had to borrow from the Air Force flak units armed with the 88-mm gun, because this was the only weapon which could give the requisite performance. The gun crews were German Air Force personnel, the equipment was not designed to Army specifications, and whether or not the guns were made available was likely to depend on the personalities of the commanders involved. Thus Rommel was able to get large numbers for use in a purely antitank role, chiefly because of his personal influence.

When the German Air Force releases flak units to the Army for use in an antitank role, the antiaircraft defense, which is primarily an Air Force responsibility, is bound to suffer. Hence it is only natural to expect that the Army's chief antitank weapons will increasingly be manufactured to its own specifications and will be organized as an integral part of the Army.

In the 75-mm antitank gun, model 40, the German Army now has a piece which weighs 1 1/2 tons as against the 7 tons of the 88-mm. For all practical purposes, the two guns give the same performance against armor at distances up to 2,500 yards. Moreover, the 75-mm antitank gun, model 40, is to be manned by Army crews which have been Army-trained. In the 75-mm antitank gun, model 41, which also weighs about 1 1/2 tons, the Germans have a weapon capable of defeating, under European fighting conditions (that is, up to about 1,500 yards), armor 100 millimeters thick—and greater thicknesses at shorter ranges.

When it was first brought out, the 75-mm antitank gun, model 40, had a muzzle velocity of only 2,400 to 2,500 feet per second, and it looked as though a still more powerful weapon would have to be produced. Now, with improvements, the gun has a muzzle velocity of about 2,800 feet per second, and the performance matches that of the 88-mm.

It should be evident, therefore, that Models 40 and 41 of the 75-mm antitank gun provide a powerful combination for all ranges up to 2,500 yards.[1]


Developments in the manufacture of German tank guns have, of course, been influenced greatly by the progress of the war itself. The 1939 German tank guns were not ideal for fighting the French tanks. At first, the 75-mm gun in the Pz. Kw. 4 was intended as a close-support gun, and as such it was very successful; even now it is being used for that purpose, and has recently been mounted in some Pz. Kw. 3's and 8-wheeled armored cars. In 1941 the Pz. Kw. 3 was armed with a 50-mm weapon to fight British cruiser tanks, and the Germans decided to convert both the Pz. Kw. 3 and the Pz. Kw. 4 into fighting tanks in every sense of the term. (German tanks have always carried a generous allotment of high-explosive shells, just as German antitank guns have always been provided with high explosive shells.) As a result, in 1942 the Pz. Kw. 3 and Pz. Kw. 4 were rearmed with high-performance guns—the 50-mm Kw. K.[2] model 39, and the 75-mm Kw. K. model 40, respectively—and were given greatly improved armor.

Moreover, two new tank guns capable of giving an even superior performance were brought into service. These guns were the 75-mm Kw. K., model 41 (tapered bore), and the 88-mm Kw. K. 36.

The appearance of the 88-mm Kw. K. 36 was probably inspired by the demand of the Afrika Korps for a gun which could throw a heavy projectile and which could give a good penetration performance at ranges of from 2,000 to 2,500 yards. The 88-mm Kw. K. 36 is a very heavy gun and one which is awkward to mount in a tank. Its ammunition (33-lb round) is hard to stow and handle in a limited space. Although the 75-mm Kw. K. 41 is a lighter gun, and uses a shorter and lighter (16 1/2 lb) round, it gives a much better armor-piercing performance than the 88-mm at any range below 1,500 yards. The 75-mm would seem to be better suited to Russian or European conditions than to desert terrain, and is likely to seen more often in the future.

The performance of the 75-mm Kw. K. does not match that of the 88-mm at any range; however, since it is fundamentally a good weapon, the Germans may attempt to improve its performance, instead of trying to develop a new and heavier gun.


The Germans seem to be losing interest in a combination armor-piercing, high-explosive shell, now that substantial thicknesses of armor have to be dealt with. During the past year they have been improving the anti-armor performance of armor-piercing projectiles: first, by reducing the high-explosive capacity of the heavier armor-piercing shells and, second, by continuing to develop high-velocity, armor-piercing shot with a tungsten carbide core. What this amounts to is that the Germans are employing shot for attacks against thick armor, while retaining, for every weapon, high-explosive shells to be used in attacks against "thin-skinned" targets.

[Figure 1. Hollow-charge Principle.]
Figure 1.—Hollow-charge Principle.

The Germans now use piercing caps on armor-piercing shells for everything over 20-mm caliber.

Both the 75-mm antitank gun model 40 and the Kw. K. 40 are provided with a hollow-charge round,[3] in addition to the high-explosive shell and the armor-piercing projectile with a ballistic (streamlined) cap. The Germans believe that the hollow-charge shell should not be used at ranges of more than 1,300 yards. It is interesting to note that there has been a rapid development of hollow-charge shells for all infantry, air-borne, and field artillery weapons. There is every reason to believe that the Germans will use these shells increasingly, and wherever possible.

[1] A very recent report indicates that the Germans have introduced a new towed 75-mm gun, which has a muzzle velocity of 3,250 feet per second and which uses the same ammunition as the 75-mm antitank gun model 40.

[2] Kampfwagen Kanone—tank gun.

[3] Hollow-charge projectiles have a hollow space (see fig. 1) in the nose section, to concentrate the blast against a small area and thus obtain better piercing effect. This principle is also followed in the manufacture of demolition charges and hand grenades.

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