|Opening Salvo: PzKpfw IV |
|by Michael J. Canavan, Sr|
Command Sergeant Major
US Army (retired)
The PzKpfw IV was the only German tank that was produced throughout World War II. It was in production longer than any other tank in the war, with the exception of the T-34. It served as the mainstay of the German panzer divisions. Research studies for future combat tanks in the 1920s along with a Rheinmetall 1930’s experiment gave birth to the initial PzKpfw designs. Specifications published in 1935 determined that battles would be fought with two types of tanks. The resulting requirement had one tank, armed with a high velocity gun being supported by a second tank carrying a large caliber gun firing HE shells. The support tank in the requirement became the PzKpfw IV. Krupp produced the first examples of the PzKpfw Ausf. A in 1937. The early versions were similar to the PzKpfw III and used the same engine. Since the specification called for a very similar vehicle to the PzKpfw III the layout of both was essentially the same. The tank is not delivered in large numbers until 1939 and the production models were designated the Type D. The PzKpfW was the tank Germany used to invade Poland, France and Russia. Production was at its peak in 1944 when 3225 of the final long gunned variants were delivered. Despite their best efforts, manufacturers would never be able to supply enough vehicles to match combat losses and the demands imposed by new Panzer formations.
The PzKpfw IV Ausf D, though larger than the PzKpfw III, had the same hull and general shape. It had a crew of 5 stationed in three compartments. The driver and radio operator were in the front in the hull. The turret contained the commander, gunner and loader. The PzKpfw IV weighed around 43,400 pounds and exerted a ground pressure of 10.6 pounds per square inch. The engine was a Maybach HL 120 TRM V-12 inline diesel that produced 300 horsepower at 3,000 RPM. The tank had a road speed of 25 miles per hour and a cross-country speed of 12.5 miles per hour. It had a range of about 200 miles, could surmount 2’ vertical obstacles, cross a 7’6” trench and had a fording depth of 2’ 7”. The PzKpfw IV could climb a 30-degree gradient. Initially, the main gun was the short barreled 75 mm KwK L/24 gun with one 7.92 mm MG 34 machine gun coaxial to it and another MG 34 in the hull. The tank carried 80 rounds for the main gun and 2,800 rounds (in belts) for the machine guns. The commander had a cupola at the rear of the turret with good all-around vision. There were escape hatches in the turret sides. Suspension was provided by four coupled bogies on each side supported by leaf springs. There was a large idler wheel at the back and four small return rollers. Most of the Ausf D models (and earlier) were later converted to other uses.
The Ausf F1 of 1941 started production with the same short-barreled main gun. This was changed on the Ausf F2 to the more powerful L/43 75 mm gun. The L/43 gun provided powerful anti-armor capability because it could fire armor piercing rounds while the shorter L/24 gun could only fire HE and smoke rounds. This gun changed the tank’s role from medium fire support to medium battle tank. The Ausf G was produced with better armor, although the earliest models were equipped with the L/43 gun. Later retrofits replace the armament with the L/48 gun. Nearly 2,000 Ausf Gs were manufactured. The Ausf H was similar but had a new transmission. The Ausf J did away with the auxiliary motor that drove the electrical turret traverse system and substituted a manual system. This was the last of the PzKpfw IV tank designs and incorporated many manufacturing shortcuts to speed production. Many attempts were made to improve the armor on all models and the Germans tried everything from “Schurzen” (additional armor plates or skirts designed to detonate HEAT rounds prematurely) to “Zimmermit” which was an anti magnetic paste applied to the tank to prevent magnetic charges from being attached.
By 1945 over 8,000 PzKpfw IVs were delivered along with many more special purpose variants. Throughout the war, the PzKpfw IV proved its worth in combat and was treated with resptect by Allied tank even as late as 1945. This tank saw action in every theater from 1939 onwards. A few saw service all the way up to the 1967 Arab - Israeli war in the Syrian Army.