GERMAN TANK TRENDS
Just what can be expected from German tanks in the near future? Which
models are most likely to be employed extensively? Are present models
undergoing much alteration?
A brief summary of the German tank situation at the moment should serve to
answer these and other pertinent questions.
There is good reason to believe that the German tanks which will be
encountered most frequently in the near future will be the Pz. Kpfw. V
(Panther), the Pz. Kpfw. VI (Tiger), and the Pz. Kpfw. IV. However, the
Germans have a new 88-mm (3.46-inch) tank gun, the Kw. K. 43, which is
capable of an armor-piercing performance greatly superior to that of the
88-mm Kw. K. 36. According to reliable information, the Kw. K. 43
is superseding the Kw. K. 36 as the main armament of the Tiger. A new
heavy tank, which has been encountered on a small scale in northwestern France,
also is armed with the Kw. K. 43. This new tank looks like a scaled-up
Panther, with the wide Tiger tracks. (Further information regarding this tank
will appear in an early issue of the Intelligence Bulletin.)
During recent months both the Tiger and the Panther have been fitted with a
slightly more powerful 690-horsepower engine in place of the 642-horsepower
model. The principal benefit from this slight increase will be a better margin of
power and improved engine life. The maximum speed will be increased by no
more than 2 or 3 miles per hour.
Face-hardened armor, which was not used on the early Tiger tanks, has
reappeared in certain plate of at least one Panther. On other Panthers which
have been encountered, only machine-quality armor is used. There is no
reason to believe that face-hardening would substantially improve the armor's
resistance to penetration by the capped projectiles now in use against it.
It would not have been surprising if the Pz. Kpfw. IV had slowly disappeared
from the picture as increased quantities of Panther tanks became available,
but actually there was a sharp rise in the rate of production of Pz. Kpfw. IV's
during 1943. Moreover, the, front armor of the Pz. Kpfw. IV has been
reinforced from 50 mm (1.97 inches) to 80 mm (3.15 inches) by the bolting of
additional armor to the nose and front vertical plates. And the 75-mm
(2.95-inch) tank gun, Kw. K. 40, has been lengthened by about 14 3/4 inches.
All these developments seem to indicate that the Pz. Kpfw. IV probably will be
kept in service for many months. Recent organization evidence reflects this,
certainly. In the autumn of 1943, evidence regarding provisional organization
for the German tank regiment in the armored division indicated that the aim
was a ratio of approximately four Panther tanks for each Pz. Kpfw. IV. Now,
however, the standard tank regiment has these two types in approximately
The possibility that Tiger production may have been discontinued has been
considered. Although discontinuing the Tiger would relieve the pressure on
German industry, it is believed that a sufficient number of these tanks to meet
the needs of units equipped with them still is being produced.
Tiger tanks constitute an integral part of division tank regiments only in SS
armored divisions. However, armored divisions of an army may receive an
allotment of Tigers for special operations.
Early in 1944 a number of Pz. Kpfw. III's converted into flame-throwing tanks
appeared in Italy. Nevertheless, it is believed that production of this tank
ceased some time ago. Some of the firms which in the past produced
Pz. Kpfw. III's now are making assault guns; others are believed to be turning out
Panthers. It is extremely unlikely that production of Pz. Kpfw. III's as fighting
tanks will ever be resumed, no matter how serious the German tank situation
In an effort to combat attacks by tank hunters, the Germans have fitted the
Tiger with S-mine dischargers, which are fired electrically from the interior of
the tank. These dischargers are mounted on the turret, and are designed to
project a shrapnel antipersonnel mine which bursts in the air a few yards away
from the tank. Thus far these dischargers have been noted only on the Tiger,
but the Germans quite possibly may decide to use them on still other tanks.
The Germans take additional precautions, as well. For protection against
hollow-charge projectiles and the Soviet antitank rifle's armor-piercing bullet
with a tungsten carbide core, they fit a skirting of mild steel plates, about 1/4-
inch thick, on the sides of the hull. In the case of the Pz. Kpfw. IV, the skirting
is suitably spaced from the sides and also from the rear of the turret. Finally,
the skirting plates, as well as the hulls and turrets of the tanks themselves,
are, coated with a sufficient thickness of non-magnetic plaster to prevent
magnetic demolition charges from adhering to the metal underneath.
Despite the recent introduction of the new heavy tank which resembles the
Panther and mounts a Kw. K. 43, it is believed that circumstances will force
the Germans to concentrate on the manufacture and improvement of current
types, particularly the Pz. Kpfw. IV and the familiar version of the Panther.
Evidence suggests that a modified Pz. Kpfw. II will shortly appear as a
reconnaissance vehicle. Official German documents sometimes refer to it as
an armored car and sometimes as a tank.
GERMAN TANKS IN ACTION
A German prisoner observes that the following are standard training principles
in the German tank arm:
2. Prompt decisions and prompt execution of these decisions.
3. The fullest possible exploitation of the terrain for
firing. However, fields of fire come before cover.
4. Do not fire while moving except when absolutely essential.
5. Face the attacker head-on; do not offer a broadside target.
6. When attacked by hostile tanks, concentrate solely on these.
7. If surprised without hope of favorable defense, scatter
and reassemble in favorable terrain. Try to draw the attacker into a position
which will give you the advantage.
8. If smoke is to be used, keep wind direction in mind.
A good procedure is to leave a few tanks in position as decoys, and, when the
hostile force is approaching them, to direct a smoke screen toward the hostile
force and blind
9. If hostile tanks are sighted, German tanks should
halt and prepare to engage them by surprise, holding fire as long as possible.
The reaction of the hostile force must be estimated before the attack is
A German Army document entitled "How the Tiger Can Aid the Infantry"
contains a number of interesting points. The following are outstanding:
1. The tank expert must have a chance to submit his opinion before any
combined tank-infantry attack.
2. If the ground will support a man standing on one leg and carrying another
man on his shoulders, it will support a tank.
3. When mud is very deep, corduroy roads must be built ahead of time. Since
this requires manpower, material, and time, the work should be undertaken
only near the point where the main effort is to be made.
4. Tanks must be deployed to conduct their fire fight.
5. The Tiger, built to fight tanks and antitank guns, must function as offensive
weapon, even in the defense. This is its best means of defense against hostile
tanks. Give it a chance to use its unique capabilities for fire and movement.
6. The Tiger must keep moving. At the halt it is an easy target.
7. The Tiger must not be used singly. [Obviously, this does not apply to the
Tiger used as roving artillery in the defense. On numerous occasions the
Germans have been using single Tigers for this purpose.] The more mass you
can assemble, the greater your success will be. Protect your Tigers with
HOW TO FIGHT PANZERS: A GERMAN VIEW
An anti-Nazi prisoner of war, discussing the various methods of combating
German tanks, makes some useful comments. Although they are neither new
nor startling, they are well worth studying since they are observations made
by a tank man who fought the United Nations forces in Italy.
German tanks undoubtedly are formidable weapons against a soft-shelled
opposition, but become a less difficult proposition when confronted with
resolution combined with a knowledge not only of their potentialities but also
of their weaknesses.
When dealing with German heavy tanks, your most effective weapon is your
ability to keep still and wait for them to come within effective range. The next
most important thing is to camouflage your position with the best available
resources so that the German tanks won't spot you from any angle.
If these two factors are constantly kept in mind, the battle is half won.
Movement of any kind is a mistake which certainly will betray you, yet I saw
many instances of this self-betrayal by the British in Italy. Allow the enemy
tank to approach as close as possible before engaging it — this is one of the
fundamental secrets of antitank success. In Italy I often felt that the British
opened fire on tanks much too soon. Their aim was good, but the ranges were
too great, and the rounds failed to penetrate. My own case is a good
illustration: if the opposition had held its fire for only a few moments longer, I
should not be alive to tell this tale.
By letting the German tank approach as close as possible, you gain a big
advantage. When it is on the move, it is bound to betray its presence from
afar. Whereas you yourself can prepare to fire on it without giving your own
position away. The tank will spot you only after you have fired your first
A tank in motion cannot fire effectively with its cannon; the gunner can place
fire accurately only when the vehicle is stationary. Therefore, there is no need
to be unduly nervous because an approaching tank swivels its turret this way
and that. Every tank commander will do this in an attempt to upset his
opponents' tank recognition. If the tank fires nothing but its machine guns,
you can be pretty sure that you have not yet been spotted.
Consider the advantages of firing on a tank at close range:
1. In most cases the leading tank is a reconnaissance vehicle. Survivors of the
crew, when such a short distance away from you, have little chance of escape.
This is a big advantage, inasmuch as they cannot rejoin their outfit and
describe the location of your position to the main body.
2. Another tank following its leader on a road cannot run you down. In order
to bypass the leading tank, it has to slow down. Then, long before the gunner
can place fire on you, you can destroy the tank and block the road effectively.
Earlier in the war, a German tank man I knew destroyed 11 hostile tanks in
one day by using this method.
VULNERABILITY OF THE PZ. KPFW. VI
A tank is such a complicated weapon, with its many movable parts and its
elaborate mechanism, that it is particularly valuable to know its points of
greatest vulnerability. Recently the Soviet Artillery Journal published a
number of practical suggestions, based on extensive combat experience,
regarding the vulnerability of the Tiger.
All weapons now used for destroying German tanks — antitank guns and rifles,
caliber .50 heavy machine guns, antitank grenades, and Molotov cocktails —
are effective against the Pz. Kpfw. VI.
1. Suspension System. — The mobility of tanks depends upon the proper
functioning of the suspension parts: the sprocket (small driving wheel), the
idler (small wheel in the rear), the wheels, and the tracks. All these parts are
vulnerable to shells of all calibers. The sprocket is especially vulnerable.
Fire armor-piercing shells and high-explosive shells at the sprocket, idler, and
Fire at the wheels with high-explosive shells. Use antitank grenades, antitank
mines, and movable antitank mines against the suspension parts. Attach
three or four mines to a board. Place the board wherever tanks are expected
to pass. Camouflage the board and yourself. As a tank passes by, pull the
board in the proper direction and place it under the track of the tank.
[A German source states that this method was successfully used on roads and
road crossings in Russia, and that it still is taught in tank combat courses for
infantry. The mine is called the Scharniermine (pivot mine). It consists of a
stout length of board, 8 inches wide by 2 inches thick, and cut to a length
dependent on the width of the road to be blocked. A hole is bored at one end,
through which a spike or bayonet can be driven into the ground, thus
providing a pivot for the board. A hook is fastened to the other end of the
board, and a rope is tied to the hook, as shown in Figure 3. Tellermines are
secured to the top of the board.
One man can operate this mine. After the board has been fastened down at
one end with the spike (in emergencies, a bayonet) and a rope tied to the
hook at the other end, the board is laid along the side of the road. On the
opposite side of the road, a man is posted in a narrow slit trench. He holds
the other end of the rope. When a tank approaches, the tank hunter waits
until it is close enough to the pivoted board, and, at the very last moment, he
pulls the free end of the board across the road. The rope and slit trench must
be well camouflaged. A good deal of emphasis is placed on this point.]
2. Side Armor Plates. — There are two armor plates on each side of the tank.
The lower plate is partly covered by the wheels. This plate protects the engine
and the gasoline tanks, which are located in the rear of the hull — directly
beyond and over the two rear wheels. Ammunition is kept in special
compartments along the sides of the tank. These compartments are protected
by the upper armor plate.
Fire armor-piercing shells from 76-, 57-, and 45-mm guns at the upper and
lower armor plate. When the gas tanks or ammunition compartments are hit,
the vehicle will be set on fire.
3. Rear Armor Plate. — The rear armor plate protects the engine, the gasoline
tank, and the radiators.
Use antitank guns. Aim at the rear armor plate. When the engine or the
gasoline tanks are hit, the tank will halt and will begin to burn.
4. Peepholes, Vision Ports, and Slits. — The main turret has two openings for
firing small-arms weapons, and two vision ports. The turret has five
observation slits. There are two sighting devices on the roof of the front part of
the tank — one for the driver, the other for the gunner. There is also a port
with sliding covers in the front armor plate.
Use all available weapons for firing at the peepholes, observation ports, vision
slits, and the ports for small-arms weapons.
5. Turrets. — The commander's turret is an important and vulnerable target.
Fire high-explosive and armor-piercing shells of all calibers at the
commander's turret. Throw antitank grenades and incendiary bottles after the
turret has been damaged.
The tank commander, the turret commander, and the gunner ride in the
turret. The tank gun and many mechanical devices are found in the turret.
Fire at the turret with 76-, 57-, and 45-mm shells at ranges of 500 yards or
6. Tank Armament. — The turret is armed with a gun and a machine gun
mounted coaxially. Another machine gun is found in the front part of the hull.
It protrudes through the front armor plate, on a ball mount, and is manned by,
the radio operator.
Concentrate the fire of all weapons on the armament of the tank. Fire with
antitank rifles at the ball mount of the hull machine gun.
7. Air Vents and Ventilators. — The air vents and the ventilators are found
under the slit-shaped perforations of the roof of the hull, directly behind the
turret. Another air vent is located in the front part of the roof, between the
two observation ports used by the radio operator and the driver.
Use incendiary bottles and antitank grenades to damage the ventilating
8. Tank Floor. — When an antitank mine explodes under the tank, the
floor of the tank is smashed, and the tank is knocked out of action.
9. Base of Turret. — There is a 10-mm slit going all around the turret,
between the base of the turret and the roof of the hull.
Fire at the base of the turret with heavy machine guns and antitank guns,
to destroy the turret mechanism, and disrupt the field of fire. Fire with
high-explosive shells at the base of the turret in order to wreck the roof of the hull
and put the tank out of action.