By Jason Rahman
In a previous article, we looked at the first generation
of Panzerjagers. These vehicles greatly aided the Germans
during the early part of the war, giving them something with
which to counter the growing number of T-34 and KV-1 tanks.
Yet by early 1943, it was clear to the Germans that the previous
generation of Panzerjagers had many flaws. Among those flaws
was a limited traverse main gun and thin armor that only covered
the front and sides of the vehicle. At the same time, the
Germans had noticed the success of the up-gunned Sturmgeschütz
III assault guns when used against tanks. So the Germans decided
to design a new set of conversions to be built along the same
lines as the Sturmgeschütz assault guns. These new vehicles
would be known as Jagdpanzers or hunting tanks.
The Jagdpanzer 38(t), better known as the Hetzer, was one
of the best Jagdpanzers built during the war. Work on the
Hetzer went back to 1943 when the Germans were dealing with
the flaws of the current Panzerjagers. So the Germans decided
to design a replacement for the Marder III to be built along
the same lines as the Sturmgeschütz assault guns. The
resulting design was a low slung superstructure built on top
of a modified Panzer 38(t) chassis.
The Hetzer mounted an L/48 75mm gun in a limited traverse
"Saukopf" pig's head mantlet. Unlike most other
German guns, the 75mm gun on the Hetzer did not have a muzzle
brake. The Panzerjager troops liked the Hetzer as it was a
small target, not much taller than a standing man. In addition
to the low silhouette, it was also highly mobile; those two
factors made it a very difficult target for its opponents
to kill. The main problem with the Hetzer was that it was
very cramped, being only 7 feet high and having a gun the
needed to be loaded from the right, mounted on the right side.
The Hetzer was such a good design that it remained in production
after the war ended and equipped several post-war European
armies. Among them was the Swiss army who continued using
them until the 1970s when they were finally taken out of service
and sold to collectors. A total of 2500 were produced during
the war and were issued to the Panzerjager battalions of infantry
divisions. You can find the Hetzer in Road
to Berlin, Battle
of the Bulge and Elsenborn Ridge.
By 1943, the Germans felt that the Sturmgeschütz assault
guns needed to be up-gunned if they were to keep pace with newer
Soviet tank designs. It was decided to fit the new L/70 75mm
gun, but the Sturmgeschütz III would need major modifications
to fit this larger gun. So the Germans decided to design a fixed
superstructure version of the Panzer IV as a fail-safe model.
The Panzer IV could fit a larger superstructure that would be
more likely to mount the larger L/70 gun. The final design,
known as the Jagdpanzer IV, was a well-sloped, thickly armored
superstructure built on top of a Panzer IV hull. This superstructure
was very hard to penetrate as many times American and British
tank crews fired their 75mm guns at close range and watched
their shells bounce right off.
The first models mounted the L/48 75mm gun, the same gun
that armed the Panzer IV on which the conversion was based.
This defeated the entire purpose of the conversion, as the
goal was to mount the larger and more powerful L/70 gun. The
reason for this was that the L/70 gun was needed to arm the
higher-priority Panther tanks, so the first models had to
be content with the shorter guns. Despite the failure to mount
the longer gun, the Jagdpanzer IV was still very effective
with its low silhouette and thick, well-sloped armor.
Many in the Panzerjager force felt that the Jagdpanzer IV
was good enough in its current form, but Hitler felt otherwise
and ordered that a new model with the L/70 gun be produced
immediately. So a new model appeared in mid-1944, not many
of this model were produced as the change over was taking
a long time; too long for Hitler. In late 1944, Hitler again
ordered that the changeover to the L/70 model be made at all
costs, so a new model came out with a crude superstructure
mounting an L/70 gun. Few of this crude model were built because
German industry was in smoking ruins at the hands of the Allied
air forces by this point. While the new L/70 models had a
better gun, they had reduced mobility as the longer gun overloaded
the front of the vehicles. This forced the designers to the
rim the front road wheels with steel instead of rubber, thus
reducing off-road mobility.
A total of 1,700 Jagdpanzer IVs were produced between January
1944 and March 1945 with the first vehicles being sent to
the 12th SS "Hitler Jugend" and Hermann Goering
divisions. The Jagdpanzer IV appears in Road
to Berlin, Battle
of the Bulge and Elsenborn Ridge mounting the L/70
Many regard the Jagdpanther as the best Jagdpanzer ever built,
as it possessed the perfect balance of armor, firepower and
mobility. The Jagdpanther was designed in mid 1943, at which
time it had become an unofficial German policy that when a
new tank was designed a fixed superstructure version was to
be produced mounting a bigger gun. A mock-up of the Jagdpanther,
then known as the Panzerjager Panther, was shown to Hitler
in October of 1943. Shortly afterwards the Panzerjager Panther
entered production, but before it did Hitler ordered the name
changed to Jagdpanther for propaganda reasons.
Like all other Jagdpanzers, the conversion involved removing
the turret and upper hull and replacing them with a thick
well-sloped armored superstructure. In this superstructure
was mounted a massive L/71 88mm gun. This was an extremely
powerful weapon capable of killing most Allied tanks at ranges
of over 2000m. The Jagdpanther was a weapon feared by Allied
tank commanders, especially in Normandy, where many times
a single Jagdpanther could hold up entire Allied armored advances
for hours until they could be found and then destroyed by
It was also feared by Russian tankers on the Eastern Front,
where its long-range gun proved very effective. The only problem
was that there just were not enough Jagdpanthers. Plans called
for production of some 300 Jagdpanthers a month, but because
of Allied bombing raids, German industry only produced some
350 during the entire war. What Jagdpanthers were produced
were sent to independent heavy tank destroyer battalions,
not to individual Panzer divisions like most other Jagdpanzers.
These battalions would be attached to units in key sectors
of the line in a similar manner as the Tiger and King Tiger
heavy tank battalions. So far the Jagdpanther appears in Road
to Berlin and Elsenborn Ridge.
Like the Panther and most other German tanks before it, the
King Tiger tank had a fixed superstructure version produced.
A mock-up of the Jagdtiger was shown to Hitler in the fall
of 1943 and with his obsession with big tanks he ordered plans
for production to go ahead. The Jagdtiger had a huge heavily-armored superstructure that was up to 250mm thick on the front
of the tank. It was armed with the massive 128mm gun, which
was the largest gun mounted on any tank during the war. This
gun's shells were so large that separate-loading ammunition
had to be used, and this lowered the rate of fire despite
having two loaders instead of the usual one.
Despite sporting the most powerful tank gun of World War
II, it had a huge number of flaws. First of all, the suspension
on the very first models could not take the nearly 80-ton
weight of the huge tank. This problem was later fixed by an
improved suspension, but even then it only had a maximum cross-country
speed of 9 miles per hour. It was also very unreliable due
to the massive weight and broke down often. Because of its
slow speed and unreliability it was often reduced to a mobile
Production of the Jagdtiger began early in the summer of
1944 and around 70 were produced up to the end of the war.
Only a few saw combat as many of those produced did not even
reach front-line units. At one point, 88mm guns were used
instead of the 128mm gun due to shortages of the new gun.
Like the other heavy Panzerjagers and Jagdpanzers, Jagdtigers
were sent to heavy tank destroyer battalions. The Jagdtiger
has yet to see the light of day in a Panzer Grenadier series
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