Panzer III

Panzer III was the common name of a medium tank that was developed in the 1930s by Germany and was used extensively in World War II. The official German designation was Panzerkampfwagen III Sd Kfz. 141 (abbreviated PzKpfw III) translating as “armoured fighting vehicle”. It was intended to fight other armoured fighting vehicles and serve alongside the infantry-supporting Panzer IV; however, as the Germans faced the formidable T-34, stronger anti-tank guns were needed. Since the Panzer IV had a bigger turret ring, the role was reversed. The Panzer IV mounted the long barreled 7.5 cm KwK 40 gun and engaged in tank-to-tank battles. The Panzer III became obsolete in this role and for most purposes was supplanted by the Panzer IV. From 1942, the last version of Panzer III mounted the 7.5 cm KwK 37 L/24, better suited for infantry support. Production of the Panzer III ended in 1943. However, the Panzer III’s capable chassis provided hulls for the Sturmgeschütz III until the end of the war.

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Panzer III Variants

Variants – Panzerbefehlswagen – Command Panzers

Panzerbefehlswagen III Ausf D1

The Panzerbefehlswagen III Ausf D1 was the first of a series of command tanks based on the Panzer III, produced when it became clear that the kleine Panzerbefehlswagen was not large enough for the role.

The Pz Bef Wg Ausf D1 was based on the last pre-production version of the Panzer III, and shared the same suspension as the Ausf D, with eight road wheels supported in pairs by two small and one large leaf spring.

The Ausf D1 was designed not to stand out. The main gun and all the equipment associated with it had been removed to make way for extra radio equipment, and so a dummy gun barrel was put in place. The main turret itself was bolted in place and as a result the turret mounted machine gun, which was the only weapon carried on the Panzerbefehlswagen III Ausf D1, had a limited 60 degree traverse.

The main identifying feature of the Panzerbefehlswagen III Ausf D1 was the large frame antenna required for the FuG 8, which resembles a hand rail placed around the rear deck of the tank.

The different Sd Kfz numbers refer to the radio equipment installed – FuG6 and FuG8 on the Sd Kfz 267 and FuG6 and FuG7 on the Sd Kfz 268. As later versions of the Panzer III were converted to act as command tanks, the Sd Kfz numbers would remain the same.

The Panzerbefehlswagen III Ausf D1 served in Poland and France. In 1939 each Panzer detachment, regiment and brigade was meant to have one in its Stab (Headquarters) unit, but only 38 of the Ausf D1 and Ausf E models had been completed by 1 September 1939. A similar number were available eight months later, at the start of the campaign in the west.

They were withdrawn from service early in 1941 for the same reason as the original Ausf D – the poor performance of the suspension system. The use of a relatively large number of command tanks allowed the German tank commanders to lead from the front, giving them a priceless tactical advantage over their more numerous and technically superior French opponents.

The Panzerbefehlswagen III Ausf E

The Panzerbefehlswagen III Ausf E was the second command tank to be based on the Panzer III. It was based on the standard Panzer III Ausf E but with the same modifications as on the earlier Panzerbefehlswagen III Ausf D1. These saw the main gun replaced by a dummy gun, the hull machine gun removed, the turret bolted in place and the addition on an extra long range radio set. Like the Ausf D1, the Ausf E could be recognised by the distinctive frame antenna on the rear deck.

The different Sd Kfz numbers refer to the radio equipment installed:

  • Sd Kfz 266: FuG6 (ultra short wave) and FuG2
  • Sd Kfz 267: FuG6 (ultra short wave) and FuG8 (medium wave)
  • Sd Kfz 268: FuG6 (ultra short wave) and FuG7 (ultra short wave)

The Panzerbefehlswagen III Ausf E entered service at the start of 1940, and took part in the invasion of France and the Low Countries. It remained in service throughout the war, although in ever decreasing numbers.

Panzerbefehlswagen III Ausf H

The Panzerbefehlswagen III Ausf H was the third version of command tank based on the Panzer III, and was based on the standard Panzer III Ausf H. Like the earlier Ausf D1 and Ausf E, the Ausf H featured a dummy main gun, had its turret bolted in place and had a distinctive frame antenna on the rear deck. In early production the dummy gun resembled the 3.7cm gun of the early Panzer III, but later in the run a mock 5cm gun was used instead.

The Panzerbefehlswagen III Ausf H was produced in two batches. The first, for 145, was ordered in January 1939, although production did not get under way until November 1940! In October 1941, after the completion of the first batch, another thirty were ordered, delaying the production of the more heavily armed Panzerbefehlswagen III Ausf K.

The different Sd Kfz numbers refer to the radio equipment installed:

  • Sd Kfz 266: FuG6 (ultra short wave) and FuG2
  • Sd Kfz 267: FuG6 (ultra short wave) and FuG8 (medium wave)
  • Sd Kfz 268: FuG6 (ultra short wave) and FuG7 (ultra short wave)

The increased production of Panzerbefehlswagen meant that each Panzer detachment and regiment could be given a second command tank, while they also began to appear with the signals units and in smaller units. A total of 120 Panzerbefehlswagen IIIs were available at the start of Operation Barbarossa in the summer of 1941. The heavy losses suffered by the German tank forces meant that one year later only 75 remained.

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Panzer III at the Deutsches Panzermuseum – German Tank Museum.

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Panzerbefehlswagen – Command Panzers

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German Military History with a focus on World War 2 History including other areas of German History