Good day to you readers, ShadyRush stopping by for a new article. As you can probably guess, this article will be about the Panzerkampfwagen IV or simply Panzer IV to keep the typing simple. Be sure to strap yourselves in before reading, the article is quite lengthy.
The Panzer IV has to be one of the most underrated and least recognized tanks of the war. It had no official Sobriquet like the “big cats” in German service and to be honest, the name wasn’t even that catchy in German; the name roughly translated to “armored fighting vehicle no. 4”. But, even though the tank wore a unoriginal and boorish name it was still the backbone of the Wehrmacht, especially during the early years of the war. In the later stages, it lost a lot of recognition. Why? Because to the American GI, every German tank was a Tiger.
Now, let’s go back to a year long before 1944 and the D-Day invasion. I’ll take you to the year 1934, the first prototype of the Batallionsfuhrerwagen (battalion commander’s vehicle) was constructed by Rheinmetall-Borsig. It was a simple tank, featuring a 5-man crew consisting of a crew commander, gunner, driver, hull machine gun operator and a radioman. The tank featured a low velocity 75 mm gun, the 300-hp Maybach HL 120L gasoline engine and Krupp’s suspension system of leaf-springed bogies. The suspension configuration consisted of four pairs of wheels and four return rollers. Does this tank sound familiar yet? It was the very first version of the Panzer IV.
Ausfuhrungen (models) B and C were the first war-ready versions of the Panzer IV, while the ausf. D was the standardized and mass produced version. Their performance was adequate, no-one expected this tank design to survive until the late stages of the war. The tank had a top speed of 42 kph and a max range of 200 km. The gun was the low velocity 75mm KwK L/24, a gun with a single purpose: to HE spam everything. The early versions had a problem with this gun though, it was so short that a deflector had to be fitted under the barrel to keep the antenna from being damaged. In later versions, armor was increased to 30mm on the front plate and 20mm on the sides and rear.
General Heinz Guderian first recognized the Panzer IV’s potential during the Polish campaign. He originally favored the Panzer III but now he became a firm advocate of the Panzer IV. However, of the 2960 tanks available to Germany for the invasion of France, only 278 were Panzer IV’s. Still the Panzer IV’s with their 75mm guns proved to be decisive; at close range, the size and weight of the shell could often take out allied armor.
The early combat experience proved invaluable in the development of the subsequent ausf. E and F versions, both of which featured redesigned exterior points and 60mm of frontal hull protection. The ausf. F was equipped with a solid sheet of armor instead of the retrofitted plates of its predecessors. These upgrades increased the weight from 17.3 to 22 tons, necessitating an increase in the width of the tracks.
Production of this version began in mid-1941, Just as Adolf Hitler started sending his armies to the Soviet Union. For the launch of Operation Barbarossa, the Germans had 580 Panzer IV’s. but by 1942 a total of 964 had been produced. The Panzer IV played a main role during the invasion of the Soviet Union, because it was the only tank capable on mounting a gun that could defeat Soviet armor.
This was of course, after the ausf. F2 was born. This version was fitted with the 75mm KwK 40 L/43 gun. This cannon, far longer than the previous version had a muzzle velocity of 2,428 feet per second and could penetrate 89mm of armor sloped at 30 degrees. The gun was powerful enough to deal with the Soviet KV-1 and T-34 tanks. Besides this gun, only the high-velocity 88’s were able to pierce these Soviet tanks at that time.
Later on as the allies began to upgrade their tanks, it became apparent that the German tanks needed to be redesigned. The need for redesigning became even more pressing by the end of the year, after the crushing defeat at Stalingrad and the reversal of Field Marshall Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps at El Alamein. While the ausf. G only had a few minor improvements the ausf. H received major ones. The gun was upgraded to the 75mm L/48, capable of dealing with some of the new up-armored Soviet tanks. Frontal armor was increased to 88mm, while aprons of spaced armor were placed around the turret and over the sides. These skirts, which detonated infantry weapons before they reached the tank itself, were either 5mm side plates of sheet metal or a mesh design called the Thomas shield. Zimmerit (concrete) a special stucco like coating designed to defeated magnetically attached anti-tank mines, was also used. These improvements gave the Panzer IV a Tigerlike appearance, which may be why the allies mistook it for one so often.
In March 1944, the Panzer IV ausf. J, the last version, began to roll off the production lines. The ausf. J was worse than the versions before it; because certain corners were cut to reduce production stress.
Soon after the introduction of this model, Hitler ordered an end to the production of the Panzer IV and replaced it with its tank destroyer derivative, the Jagdpanzer IV. The Panther was supposed to replace the Panzer IV as the main medium tank of the Wehrmacht. Meanwhile, the move toward more specialized vehicles changed to Panzer IV’s use.
The first tank-destroyer variant of the Panzer IV was the Hornisse (Hornet), which was later renamed to Nashorn (Rhinoceros) after Hitler insisted on a more aggressive name. (As someone who is allergic to Hornet venom, I’d be more intimidated by the first name) The chassis, the gun varriage III/IV was the body of the Panzer IV married to the engine of the Panzer III. The fearsome 88mm PaK L/71 anti-tank gun was mounted in the tall, open topped superstructure. The Nashorn featured an amazing weapon, but the generals required a vehicle with more survivability. The StuG IV assault gun; which combined the superstructure and armament of the StuG III with the chassis of the Panzer IV was the next logical step.
In the end however, the Jagdpanzer IV became the definitive Tank destroyer version of the Panzer IV. It was initially armed with the 75mm L/48, but the final version featured the Panther’s 75mm L/70. The vehicle was a pretty big fail: it was so short that, when the gun fired, the muzzle brake would stir up so much dirt the position would be given away instantly. The vehicle was nicknamed “Guderian’s Duck”.
The Panzer IV chassis was also pressed into the role of SPGH. The first model was the Hummel (Bumblebee), which carried the 150mm FH 18/1 heavy field howitzer. It was identical to the Nashorn tank destroyer in everything except the gun. The 666 Hummels that saw service were allocated to the artillery regiments of favored Panzer division. Supplementing the Hummel in the assault role, was the Sturmpanzer IV Brummbar (Grizzly Bear), which carries the short 150mm STuH 53 L/12 assault howitzer, for high-explosive firepower. The SPG featured 100 mm of frontal armor and the gun was absolutely devastating in direct fire support. A total of 313 Brummbars were produced from 1943 until the end of the war. Both the Hummel and the Brummbar first saw combat during the battle of Kursk.
So many models of the Panzer IV exist that listing all of them here is nearly impossible. More than 10,500 Panzer IV chassis were produced during WW2 which is a testament to the capability of the original design. In fact, the Panzer IV served well into the next two decades. The Soviet Union sold captured Panzer IV’s to Syria, which used them in June 1967 against the Shermans of the IDF. Today, the Panzer IV is still considered the tank with no name. But then again, what tank needs a name with such an amazing record?
Thanks for reading,