Panzer III - Medium Tank
|A brandnew Panzer III of Panzerregiment 8, 15. Panzerdivision|
German re-armament plans in the 1930's called for the new panzer battalions to be constitued of three light-medium tank companies and one heavy-medium company. The lighter tank, wich was to form the bulk of the panzer force for much of the war and remain in production to its end, was the Panzerkampfwagen (PzKpfw or Panzer III). One reason for this sucess was that a turret ring diameter was specified that allow upgunning to higher-calibre weapons that 37mm (1.41in) gun originaly fitted.
Development began as early as 1935, and the earliest models were available by 1937, seeing service in the polish campaign. Despite problems with the suspension and thin armour, the Panzer III defeated all opposition in the Blitzkrieg campaigns, its only significant losses caused by Polish anti-tank guns. The first four models (Ausf A, B, C and D) differed mainly in suspesion details. The Ausf E introduced the definitive six-wheel main suspention and had thicker armour, and the Ausf F was basically similar. The first truly mass-produced version was the Asuf G, introduced in spring 1940: 600 of these were build, compared with a total of 601 of all previous versions.
|A Panzer III Ausf H with short 50mm gun|
The Ausf H was the first model to introduce a heavier main armament - a 50mm (1.9in) KwK L/42 cannon - on theprodution line, although this was fitted to later Ausf Gs, prodution of wich continued in parallel. Many Ausf Fs, were retrofitted with features of the Ausf H, such as the turret basket and the 50mm (1.9in) cannon. Additional armour was build into H and added to many Fs and Gs. The only reliable way to identify an upgraded F or G was by reference to the sprocket wheel, wich had eight holes rater than the six on the H and later models.
Panzer IIIs with 50mm gun were the most effective tank in the early part of the North African campaign,able to defeat all Allied tanks until the arrival of the Sherman. In the invation of the USSR in 1941, this gun was rendered obsolet by the Soviet T-34. Subsequent models were fitted with a long-barreled 75mm (2.9in) cannon that had a chance of outranging Soviet tanks. prodution of the Panzer III models continued into July 1943, but assault guns and other derivatives were produced until May 1945.
|Freshly arrived on the eve of the battle of El Alamein, a Panzer III Ausf J with KWK L/60 gun|