By Todd Hubert
At 0445 hours on the morning of September 1, 1939, German divisions supported by tactical aircraft and mobile armor poured across the Polish frontier. The Polish government surrenderd at the end of five weeks of fighting. Then on May 10, 1940 the Wehrmacht struck west and at the end of six weeks of heavy fighting Belgium, the Netherlands and France stood defeated while the remnants of the Allied Expeditionary Force were evacuated across the English Channel.
At the beginning of World War II, the German blitzkrieg was simply a concentration of armored units in Panzer divisions focused on key objectives. Combined with updated equipment, tactics, and doctrine, the Germans where able to use this advantage to defeat British and French tanks with superior guns, armor and numbers. As the Wehrmacht shifted to operations in the east it appeared on paper that Stalin’s T-34 and KV-1 tanks would be sufficient to stop the blitzkrieg cold with their superior numbers, armor, and firepower.
However the early success of Operation Barbarossa showed once again that the main battle tanks of the Nazis, the Panzer III and IV, while inferior to the Russian tanks in the categories of armor and firepower were adequate enough to defeat the Soviet armor with comparative ease and in substantial quantities. Impressed with the characteristics of the T-34, by the summer of 1943 the Germans had upgraded their existing tanks along with introducing new tanks, like the Tiger I and Panther. Responding to the new German tanks, the Russians began a crash program to improve upon the qualities of the T-34 and KV-1/IS-2 by enhancing hull design and increasing the caliber of the main gun. So a race began on who could build the better tank, one that would reign supreme on the battlefield of the Eastern Front.
In his book The Other Side of the Hill, military historian B.H. Liddell Hart interviewed and quoted General Hasso Manteuffel (1897-1978) on his view of tank design, “Tanks must be fast. That, I would say, is the most important lesson of the war in regard to tank design. The Panther was on the right lines, as a prototype. We used to call the Tiger a ‘furniture van’ – though it was a good machine in the initial breakthrough. Its slowness was a worse handicap in Russia than in France, because the distances were greater. Firepower, armor protection, speed and cross-country performance are the essentials, and the best type of tank is that which combines these conflicting requirements with most success. In my opinion the German Panzer V, the ‘Panther’, was the most satisfactory of all, and would have been close to the ideal had it been possible to design with a lower silhouette. A main lesson I learned from all my experience was that much more importance should be placed on the speed of the tank on the battlefield than was generally believed before the war, and even during, the war. It is a matter of life or death for the tank to avoid the deadly effect of enemy fire by being able to move quickly from one fire-position to another. Maneuverability develops into a ‘weapon’ and often ranks equal to firepower and armor-protection.”
However, military historian Steven Zaloga in his book Armored Champion states that besides the holy trinity of tank design: armor, firepower, and mobility, “other factors are equally vital: crew training, tactics, affordability, and dependability.” Dr. Stephen Hart, a senior lecturer at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, states “A tanks overall effectiveness is determined by the combination five factors; armament, armor, mobility, reliability, and cost.” So which is it? If I have the best tank on the battlefield does this mean I automatically win? Does the quality tank have an advantage over the quantity tank? Which part of the Holy Trinity should I have first? Do I need all three?
“The survivability of the tanks on the battlefield depends largely on its armor.” This value is dependent on the thickness, the angling and the quality of the armor. Before the advent of the dedicated antitank round typical tank armor was from ¼ inch (6 mm) to 1 inch (25 mm) thick. This changed in 1928 when Germany developed and issued the 37 mm Pak 36 L/45 antitank gun. First used in combat during the Spanish Civil War in 1936, the weapon showed that the gun demonstrated its capabilities of neutralizing any tank threat at combat ranges.
These results influenced designers to increase the armor thickness of their tanks. Since it would make a tank to heavy and impractical, designers had to determine which surface to increase the thickness of the armor. This was determined to be “the front of the turret and glacis plate on the front of the hull usually have the thickest armor, the hull and turret sides less armor, and the tank roof and belly the least armor.” Armor thickness can be improved by increasing the angle of the armor plate in relation to the enemy weapon. “In the case of a tank with 20 mm armor, the vertical plate has an effective thickness of 20 mm. When angled 30 degrees, the effective thickness increases to 22 mm, and when angles to 45 degrees its effective thickness is 28mm.” Armor quality is determined by that particular country’s manufacturing techniques, variation in the hardness, and supply of critical alloys.
The ideal main gun on a tank is a “dual-purpose weapon able to fire both a lethal antitank projectile and a high–explosive round with a large content of high-explosive.” The velocity of its projectiles, barrel length and projectile design affects the anti-armor performance of the main gun. Increasing the amount of propellant in the round increases the velocity of the projectile. For example, “of the German 75 mm tank guns, the early war short 75 mm gun used a round with only 12 ounces of propellant, which increased to 5.35 pounds in the mid-war “long” 75 mm KwK 40 on the PzKpfw IV Ausf. G, and finally to 8.1 pounds in the Panther’s very long 75 mm KwK 42.”
Figure 2: Comparative Performance of German 75 mm APCBC Projectile
|75mm Gun||Length||Propellant weight kg (lb)||Initial muzzle velocity (m/)||Penetration (mm)*|
|KwK 40||L/48||2.4 (5.35)||2,460||141|
*Against vertical RHA plate, point-blank; RHA=rolled homogeneous armor
SOURCE: Armored Champion: The Top Tanks of World War II, pp. 15.
A tank with the same propellant load and a longer barrel will achieve more velocity than a tank with the same propellant load and a short barrel due to the longer barrel providing more time for the propellant to burn before the projectile leaves the barrel. Zaloga states “Velocity of the projectile is the key to armor penetration since the projectile energy on impact is equivalent roughly to half the square of the velocity times the projectile mass. Gun-barrel length is expressed in multiples of the bore caliber, so the 300 5.0 cmcm length of the Pak 38 tube is expressed as L/60 (300 cm = 5.0 cm x 60).”
To improve projectile design the standard armor piercing (AP) round used had the velocity increased and designers took the simple steel bullet and cemented a soft metal cap made of iron to the tip of the projectile. This solution prevented the round from shattering on impact on sloped armor and was designated armor-piercing capped (APC). This round evolved by the designers adding “a thin metal “windshield” in front of the cap for better aerodynamic performance.” This became the standard anti-armor projectile designated armor-piercing capped, ballistic cap (APCBC).
In order to increase velocity further designers developed the high-velocity armor-piercing (HVAP) round by encasing a tungsten carbide sub-caliber penetrator within a larger, duraluminum projectile. Having lighter weight and greater speed the outer shell upon impact peeled away “and the projectile’s energy was concentrated on a smaller impact point of the hard metal penetrator.” Two disadvantages with this round was one, the lighter round had poor long-range performance and two, and tungsten carbide was a badly needed, precious commodity for industrial tools during the war.
Finally designers developed the armor piercing, discarding sabot (APDS) for launching high velocity sub-caliber penetrators from tank guns. This round was encased in an aluminum sabot made up of individual petals that separated or peeled off from the round when it left the barrel, leaving only the penetrator to hit the target at very high speeds. At first the main problem was getting the petals to fall off simultaneously so as not to affect the ballistic trajectory of the penetrator.
Figure 3: Projectile Comparisons
Source: Armored Champion: The Top Tanks of World War II, pp. 15, 17.
Figure 4: German Tank Guns, 1943-45
|Main gun||KwK 40||KwK 42||KwK 36||KwK 43|
|Armor-piercing projectile||PzGr. 39||PzGr. 39/42||PzGr. 39||PzGr. 39/43|
|Muzzle Velocity (m/s)||790||925||780||1000|
|Round weight (kg)||11.5||14.24||22.7||22.7|
|Projectile weight (kg)||6.8||6.8||10.2||10.2|
|Propellant weight (kg)||2.4||3.67||5.4||5.4|
|Penetration mm; @ 500 m, 30 degree||91-96||117-129||110||185|
|Armor-piercing projectile high velocity||PzGr. 40||PzGr. 40/42||PzGr. 40||PzGr. 40/43|
|Muzzle Velocity (m/s)||930||1120||940||1130|
|Round weight (kg)||8.8||11.42||7.2||7.2|
|Projectile weight (kg)||4.1||5.74||7.3||7.3|
|Propellant weight (kg)||2.7||3.7||2.78||2.78|
|Penetration mm; @ 500 m, 30 degree||108-120||174-184||155||217|
|High-Explosive projectile||SprGr. 34||SprGr. 42||SprGr. L/4.5||SprGr. 43|
|Projectile weight (kg)||5.74||5.74||9.0||9.4|
|Explosive fill (g)||653||653||861||861|
SOURCE: Armored Champion: The Top Tanks of World War II, pp. 177.
Figure 5: Russian Tank Guns, 1943-45
|Gun Type||20-Km||ZIS-4||L-11||F-34, ZIS-5||ZIS-S-53||D-10||D-25|
|Muzzle Velocity (m/s)||757||990||612||662||792||1000||795|
|Projectile weight (kg)||1.43||3.14||6.3||6.3||9.02||15.9||25.0|
|Penetration mm; @ 500 m, 30 degree||31||83||54||59||90||125||122|
|Armor piercing projectile high velocity||BR-240P||BR-271P||N/A||BR-350P||BR-350P||N/A||N/A|
|Muzzle Velocity (m/s)||1065||1270||965||1030|
|Projectile weight (kg)||0.85||1.75||3.02||4.99|
|Penetration mm; @ 500 m, 30 degree||54||101||77||90|
|High Explosive projectile||O-240||O-271||O-350A||O-350A||O-365||OF-412||OF-462|
|Projectile weight (kg)||2.1||3.68||6.2||6.2||9.57||15.5||21.7|
|Explosive fill (kg)||120||218||490||490||775||1460||3460|
SOURCE: Armored Champion: The Top Tanks of World War II, pp. 199.
Figure 6: U.S. Tank Guns, 1943-45
|Muzzle Velocity (m/s)||884||587||617||792||814|
|Projectile weight (kg)||0.87||6.78||6.78||7.0||10.9|
|Propellant weight (kg)||0.24||0.98||0.98||1.64||3.31|
|Penetration mm; @500m, 30degree||51||55-66||62-72||92-96||110-118|
|Armor-piercing projectile high-velocity||N/A||N/A||N/A||T4 (M93)||T3016 (M304)|
|Muzzle velocity (m/s)||1036||1020|
|Projectile weight (kg)||4.3||6.9|
|Penetration mm; @500m, 30 degree||137||194|
|High Explosive projectile||M63||M48||M48||M42A1||M71|
|Projectile weight (kg)||0.73||6.7||6.7||5.8||10.6|
|Explosive fill (g)||38||665||665||390||925|
SOURCE: Armored Champion: The Top Tanks of World War II, pp. 233.
Tank mobility is made up of engine power, transmission, power train, suspensions, and track design. During World War II gasoline engines were predominantly used in tanks due to the country using existing engines rather than develop dedicated tank engines, however; when a country did develop dedicated tank engines, these were often diesels. Transmissions and power trains came from the automotive and tractor industry and required redesign to solve reliability issues. Suspensions for tanks started with leaf spring based types, volute springs, with most tank manufacturers by the end of the war settling on torsion bar suspensions due to its good road-wheel travel while not taking up much internal hull volume.
The Christie spring suspension gave good wheel travel in tanks but at the expense of taking up internal hull volume. Tank track consisted of narrow cast metal track with the U.S. Army adding rubber-padded track blocks for better road performance. The width of the track was dependent on the environmental conditions the tank was deployed where narrow tracks at the beginning of the war favored dry roads and terrain but did not perform as well as wider tracks in the mud or snow.
Command and Control
The advent of radios in tanks enabled coordinated battlefield movements and Germany was one of the pioneers in this regard because senior commanders appreciated the need for real-time communication in high–speed warfare. Radios improved communications between tanks, internal crew communication and just at important communications between tank and infantry units. Zologa states, “The Germans went to great lengths to deploy tactical radios as extensively as the technology would permit. Radio was part of the revolution in military affairs this is often called Blitzkrieg.”
One vital improvement in command and control was crew size, Zaloga states “The most important innovation came in the early 1930s as a result of German tactical trials when it was discovered that two-man turrets were not efficient on the battlefield. As a result, when the next generation tanks were designed in the mid-1930’s, the new Krupp turrets had three men: the commander, gunner, and loader. This design had two critical advantages: It freed the commander of any responsibilities as loader or gunner and allowed him to concentrate his attention to coordinating his own tank crew as well as the actions of his tank within the tank platoon.” Another feature of the Krupp turret was the built in all-around exterior vision, commander’s cupola.
There is no surprise that the level of training and technical experience will affect the quality of a tank crew. However combat experience is vital in any form of tank engagement. In his book Zaloga’s states a Soviet army study “The effect of tank crew quality during an engagement between equivalent tanks with the criteria based on the probability of locating and identifying the opposing tank, being the first to fire, and actually hitting the enemy tank. In the case of a well-trained crew facing an equally well-trained crew, the friendly tank had only a 38 percent chance of knocking out the enemy tank. On the other hand in the case of a well-trained crew facing a poorly trained enemy, the probability increased to almost 63 percent.”
The decision that all armies must decide is to field a tank force with large quantities of cheap tanks or high quality effective but expensive tanks.
Figure 5: German Tank Prices (Reichmarks)
|PzKpfw IV||103,462 RM|
|PzKpfw IV Ausf. F2||115,962 RM|
|PzKpfw IV Ausf. G||125,000 RM|
|PzKpfw V Panther||117,100*/176,100 RM|
|PzKpfw VI Tiger||250,800*/299,800 RM|
|PzKpfw VI Tiger II||321,500 RM|
*Price without gun, radio, or other components
Source: Stephen Zaloga, Armored Champion: The Top Tanks of World War II, pp. 39.
Figure 6: Soviet Tank Prices (Rubles)
|T-34 Medium Line*||162,000 Rubles|
|T-34 Medium Radio||171,000 Rubles|
|T-34-85 Medium||181,000 Rubles|
*Tanks without radios
Source: Armored Champion: The Top Tanks of World War II, pp. 38.
Figure 7: U.S. Tank Cost ($)
|Type||Base Price||With GFE||Lend-Lease|
GFE: Government furnished equipment-gun and power train
Source Stephen Zaloga, Armored Champion: The Top Tanks of World War II, pp. 39
According to Steven Zaloga “The T-34 was the most influential tank design of the Second World War.” The Soviet Union had to face the realities of actual warfare following the disastrous results coming from the invasion of Finland and according to Dr. Robert Forczyk “On March 31, 1940 the Defense Ministry approved full-scale production of the T-34 at Kharkov Locomotive Factory (KhPZ) and the Stalingrad Tractor Works (STZ).” The T-34/76 Model 1941 had a reliable V2 diesel engine, the L-11 76.2 mm main gun was adequate, and 45 mm hull armor was sloped at 30 degrees along with the turret front of 70 mm at 60 degrees, offered protection from enemy guns. The German army was introduced to this tank on 22 June 1941 during Operation Barbarossa were it became apparent that the new Soviet tank models had superior firepower, mobility, and armor protection to that of the PzKfw Mk. III and PzKfw Mk. IV tanks.”
According to a German tank officer who reported “Time and time again our tanks have been split right open by frontal hits. The commander’s cupolas on the PzKpfw III and PzKpfw IV have been completely blown off, proof that the armo76.2 mmr is inadequate and the attachment of the cupolas is faulty. It is also proof of the great accuracy and penetration of the Russian T-34’s 76.2 mm gun…The former pace and offensive spirit of the Panzer force will evaporate and be replaced by a feeling of inferiority since the crews know they can be knocked out by the enemy tank while they are still a great distance away. Although the superior skill of the panzer crews compensated for their mount’s technical inferiority, it was demoralizing when only hits against the rear drive-sprocket were successful, along with chance hits on the turret ring”
At the time of the German invasion 1,226 T34/76 tanks had been delivered to the Red Army with only 982 deployed to the Western Military districts. However if the T-34 had a serious weakness it was the decision to use a two-man turret crew. In combat mode the commander was tasked with gunner’s job of aiming the main gun, which distracts him from his primary job of coordinating this tanks actions with other T-34’s in his platoon. Another weakness would be the lack of radios and the knowledge to use them correctly. Zaloga states, “Tankers could not communicate with one another easily, and it proved difficult to co-ordinate their actions in combat.” This inadequate training and poor logistics as Dr. Forczyk states “The best designed tank in the world is merely scrap iron if it does not have ammunition, fuel or a trained crew, and that was the condition for virtually all the T-34’s units in the summer of 1941.”
The T-34/76 Model 1942 increased the maximum frontal armor from 45 to 65 mm and all where fitted with the F-34 76.2 mm L/42. This gun was complimented with the BR-350A anti-armor round capable of penetrating 69 mm of armor at ranges of 500 meters and the new BR-350P APDS that could penetrate 92 mm of armor at 500 meters. The T-34/76 Model 1943 had its turret change to the hexagonal design which had 70 mm of armor and the commander’s cupola added by mid-1943.
Dr. Forczyk states “The rugged and simplistic construction of the T-34 paid off with an operational reliability rate of around 70-90 percent in most Soviet armor units in 1943. In contrast, no German panzer unit equipped with Panther Ausf. D or A model tanks was able to sustain an operation readiness rate above 35 percent for any sustained period in 1943.” On October 6th 1941 elements of the Fourth Panzer Division 2nd Panzer Army spearhead was ambushed near Mtensk on October 6th 1941 by a tank brigade equipped with the new T-34’s, trapping the Fourth Panzer Division as it approached Mtsensk.
Unable to break out of the ambush with its under-gunned and under-armored PzKpfw Mk IV’s the Fourth Panzer saw many of its tanks reduced to smoking hulks. The Germans finally decided to upgrade their current PzKpfw Mk III and IV’s with improved firepower for a short-term solution while the long term prompted the development of the PzKpfw Mk. V and Mk.VI. The summer battles of 1943 in the Kursk-Orel salient, followed by the Soviet counter-offensive, made it clear that the main failing of the T-34’s concerned its gun, not armor. These developments lead the Red Army to switch to the T-34/85.
The Tiger first appeared on the Eastern front in January 1943 with the Panther showing up in numbers by July 1943 both being invulnerable in frontal assaults at standard combat ranges by T-34’s. The only way to win an engagement was to attack from the sides or get in behind at close range. This prompted the Red Army to adopt the T-34-85 at the end of 1943. Zaloga states “Following Kursk, an assessment by the main Soviet tank research institute compared the combat effectiveness of the T-34 with its German opponents, assigning the baseline value of 1.0 to the current production version of the PzKpfw III. In this assessment, the T-34 rated at only 1.16, the PzKpfw IV at 1.27, and the Panther at 2.37.”
While the Germans had made improvements to their existing panzer fleet and fielded two new designs the Soviet hierarchy had played politics with the T-34’s improvements losing the edge in tank development by mid-1943. Like the Germans had done earlier with the PzKpfw Mk. IV and the development of the Panther and Tiger, the Russians selected a two-step process. First, develop a powerful gun on the existing T-34 as a short-term stopgap; second continue to develop the T-44 as a long-term solution. At this stage in the war the Russians had finally realize that the two-man turret lay out was the main culprit of poor tank performance during combat. Since the existing hexagonal 76 mm turret was cramped and inefficient to house the larger 85 mm gun, the Red Army decided to combine the new ZIS-S-53 85 mm gun to a new three-man turret with increased armor thickness. Production began in late 1943, continued through 1947, with the T-34-85 Model 1944 being the standard version. First combat deployment was in March 1944 in the Ukrainian-Romanian front.
Production of this heavy tank began in June 1940 with the initial intention for the KV-1 t to fulfill the role of being able to break through heavy enemy defenses and then proceed to destroy his artillery while fast T-34’s exploited the gap. For firepower the tank was armed with the F-34 ZIS-5 76.2 mm gun, however the main problem for KV-1 tankers was spotting enemy positions, which was very difficult since the gunner’s TMFD-7 sight had only a 15-degree field of view, which made scanning for targets time-consuming.
Early KV-1’s suffered mobility issues due to inadequate transmissions, faulty clutches, poor turning radius, and a slow combat speed of 3-4kmh (2-2.5 mph). Armor protection was 90-110mm hull and 100-110mm for the turret. In the summer of 1942 Stalin ordered upgrades and designers were able to shave 5 tons off the total weight by reducing the armor to 80 mm, improved the transmission and a new commander’s cupola that enhanced visibility. Designated KV-1S (“speedy”) it’s off road speed was 8kmh(5mph) faster than earlier KV-1 models. Due to lackluster performance in the summer of 1942 the Red Army decided to pull remaining KV-1’s out of the tank corps and place them in separate guard tank regiments thus the KV-1’s tactical mission shifted from breakthrough tank to infantry-support tank. Then after the battle of Kursk the Red Army ended the KV-1 heavy tank program due to poor combat performance based on its lack of maneuverability.
Author David Higgins comments “After the fighting around Kursk in mid-1943, the Soviets looked to produce a vehicle that had thicker armor to better resist the German high-velocity 88 mm fun and a main armament that could handle the armor mounted on the enemy weapon.” The Red Army began work to replace the KV-1 starting in March 1942 then after evaluating a captured Tiger I in January of 1943 the new heavy tank program accelerated. By October 31, 1943 the “Isoef Stalin”(IS)-2 was fitted with the new D-25T L/43 122 mm gun and became operational by April 1944. Following the success of the T-34 series the designers continued that winning process with the IS-2: loose tolerances, simplicity, and ruggedness.
By using cast armor production numbers increased, however it was not as strong or resilient as RHA and though hard it was prone to shatter. As a breakthrough tank the IS-2 main armament was suited to attacking infantry, buildings, vehicles, and defensive positions. As Higgins states, “the IS-2’s large bore fired a shell with considerable mass that could buckle or deform even the strongest enemy armor should penetration not result. Although the vehicles BR-471 antitank round traveled at just 77 percent of the Tiger II’s Panzergranate (Pzgr.) 39/43, it produced 1.45 times more muzzle energy.” For mobility the designers upgraded the engine used on the KV-1 for the IS-2, installed a detachable mechanical transmission, and incorporated a German-derived torsion bar system with all-steel wheels encompassed by lighter “Chelyabinsk tracks” that featured alternating flat links, and excellent traction.
The IS-2 was designed specifically to breach a enemy’s front line defenses and create a gap so fast T-34’s could attack the enemy’s flank and rear areas of logistics and command and control capabilities. When the Red Army switched to offensive operations in mid-1943, the IS-2, light weight, good reliability, thick armor and powerful main gun, made it ideal for tip of the spear operations. In combat against soft targets the IS-2’s slow reloading, heavy two piece rounds and poor target reconciliation were not significant issues, however when matched against enemy armor, where the first round decided the engagement, they were catastrophic.
German PzKpfw Mk. IV Panzer
Having not much interest in tanks and the Treaty of Versailles banning Germany form having tanks the Wehrmacht look elsewhere to regain the offensive edge. However young, far-sighted and vocal officers like Oberstleutnant Heinz Guderian realized that tanks could restore the offensive edge in land warfare. Zaloga states “Between the end of the war in 1918 and Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, the German attitude towards tanks completely reversed, and the German Army began to emerge as an enthusiastic proponent of armored warfare.”
The genesis of the Panzerkampfwagen (PzKpfw) Mk. IV was based on the concern to support the infantry in combating fixed enemy positions, not tank-vs.-fighting. Since the Wehrmacht favored speed and surprise over firepower and defense the Mk. IV was initially armed with a short barrel 75 mm KwK 37 L/24 “cigar butt” gun for troop support engagements and a co-axial 7.92 mm MG34. This mission changed after Germany confronted the Red Army during Operation Barbarossa in the summer of 1941. In the short-term response to the tank panic brought on by the encounters with the new T34 medium tank and the KV heavy tank, the Wehrmacht decided to upgrade the armor and firepower of the Mk. IV.
The new 75 mm KwK 40 L/43 gun offered high explosive firepower and excellent high antitank performance, able to penetrate 91mm/3.58 inches of armor at 30 degrees at 500 meters using the normal PzGr. 39 round and 108mm/4.25 inches of armor using the tungsten carbide PzGr. 40 round. This gun was mounted on the existing PzKpfw Mk. IV Ausf. F chassis, along with armor upgrade from 50mm/1.97 inches to 80mm/3.15 inches bolted/welded, in addition to 5-9mm turret and hull skirts, was designated the PzKpfw Mk. IV Ausf. G and was produced from March 1942 to June 1943. The PzKpfw Mk. IV Ausf. H mounted the new 75 mm KwK 40 L/48 and was produced from April 1943 to July 1944.
German PzKpfw Mk. V Panther
Mark Healy states, “Of all the weapons that would make their debut during Zitadelle, none had more expectation and hope riding upon it than the new Panther medium tank.” The genesis of this weapons origins begins in the shock the Wehrmacht experience when its Panzer spearheads encountered the Soviet T-34/76 medium tank in combat operations following the June 22, 1941 invasion. Although in small numbers, inadequately deployed, and inferior trained crews the T-34/76 posed a serious threat to the success of Operation Barbarossa.
This threat was finally acknowledged on October 6, 1941 when elements of the Fourth Panzer Division, under Colonel-General Heinz Guderian’s 2nd Panzer Army, approaching Mtsensk were ambushed by a Soviet brigade equipped with T-34’s under the command of Colonel Mikhail Katukov. Guderian was shocked, “The vast superiority of the Soviet tanks caused such shock and grievous casualties, and admitted, and the exhaustion that was now noticeable was less physical than spiritual. It was indeed startling to see how deeply our best officers had been affected by the latest battles.” So impressed by the T-34’s Guderian ordered an inquiry and suggested that in order to counter the T-34, Germany needed a tank that duplicated the T-34’s three main characteristics; superior main armament, suspension, and sloped armor.
In late November 1941 the Panther Commission contracted the armaments firms of Daimler-Benz and Maschinenfabrik Augsberg Nuremburg (MAN) to begin development work on a new tank in the 30-ton class designated VK30.02. After evaluating the prototypes the contract was awarded to MAN on May 15, 1942 with modification that the front glacis plate be thicken from 60 mm to 80 mm. This increase now brought the weight of the Panther to 45 tons, which created unnecessary strain on the engine, transmission, gearbox and wheels. Robert Forczyk states “The Panther’s development was marked by a constant tendency to tinker with the basic deign of the vehicle, which severely hindered the production and deployment of the Panther to combat units in 1943.”
Politics also hindered the Panther, on June 16, 1943 Guderian, knowing the problems affecting the tanks design, refused to certify the 200 Panthers being shipped to the Eastern front as combat ready. However, Karl Otto Saur, deputy at the Reich’s Armaments Ministry, refused Guderian’s evaluation for he had promised Hitler personally that the Panther would be ready for Operation Zitadelle.
The Panther had two strengths one, the lethality of its 75 mm Kwk 42 L/70 main gun firing the PzGr. 39/42 APBC and PzGr. 40/42 AP rounds were capable of penetrating 111 mm and 149 mm armor sloped at 30 degrees at 1000 meters. This gun was aided by the superb TFZ 12/12a monocular telescopic sight enabling the gun to achieve 97 percent first time hits at 1000 meters and 29 percent first time hits at 2500 meters under combat conditions. Second the Panther had great survivability due to its thick 55 degree sloped frontal armor.
PzKpfw Mk. VI Tiger
The German heavy breakthrough tank design lay dormant during the first two years of the war until May 26, 1941 when Hitler ordered that a well-armored German heavy tank be developed that would out-gun and enemy tank it might encounter. Then it received another impetus after the Wehrmacht invaded Russia and encountered the T-34 and KV-1 tanks. It was apparent that superior German tank design of the Panzer III and IV had been outclassed by the Soviets, this place more urgency on the program and production for a heavy tank was scheduled for the summer of 1942.
The Henschel’s VK4501 (H) won the evaluation and production began in July 1942. Hitler was impatient with the slow development pace of the Tiger, and the army tried to placate him by deploying small numbers of Tigers before all their teething problems had been solved. The first Tiger tanks completed on August 20, 1942 were shipped to the Eastern front near Leningrad on August 29 1942 with the second shipment of Tigers headed to Tunisia in December 1942.
Production of the Tiger tank from August 1942 to August 1944 totaled 1,349 units this reflects the cost and significant time, more than twice that was needed for a Panther that had to be expended to produce a tank as large, technically complex and well engineered as the Tiger.  The Tiger weighed 55 tons and was outfitted with the potent long barreled 88 mm KwK 36 L/56 main gun capable of penetrating the side or rear armor of a Sherman V at 3500 meters or 1800 metes frontally. In contrast the standard 75 mm Sherman could only puncture the Tiger’s side armor at 100 meters and could not even penetrate the Tiger frontally at point-blank range. The Tiger’s armor was not sloped and consisted of high quality homogenous armor 120 mm thick on the turret front and 80-82mm thick at the sides and rear. The powerful 642 bhp Maybach gas engine made the Tiger achieve a top speed of 38kph/23.61mph on the road and 20kph/12.42mph off road, according to Lieutenant Otto Carius, the Tiger “drove just like a car”
PzKpfw Mk. VI Tiger Ausf. B Konigstiger
David Higgins states: “Although the German heavy Tiger I tank was made operational in August 1942, and could effectively contend with the T-34, the latter’s considerable production numbers outpaced the capabilities of the German industry, with the result that the Soviets could better weather a war of attrition. As a result of the rapid arms race in the east where each side attempted to maintain a battlefield edge, vehicle weight, armor protection, and firepower all increased.” The epitome of the operational heavy tank design for Germany the Tiger II expanded the Tiger I’s thick armor and main gun then attached it to an improved bulked up Panther hull. Armor composed of rolled homogeneous armor (RHA) with 180 mm for the tanks mantlet, 150 mm for the glacis, and 80 mm for the hull and turret sides.
Armament consisted of the 88 mm KwK 43 L/71 firing the Pzgr. 39/43 APCBC-HE-T round was capable of penetrating a 30 degree RHA plate 165 mm at 1000 meters and 132 mm at 2000 meters. The Pzgr. 40/43 HVAP/T round could penetrate a 30-degree RHA plate 193 mm at 1000 meters and 152 mm at 2000 meters. Production ran from November 1943 to March 1945 with a total of 492 tanks delivered. Tiger II speed was 41.5 kph over a hard level surface and due to additional weight a transverse torsion-bar suspension system comprising nine load carrying axles per side was incorporated.  Due to the Tiger II’s size, limited numbers available, mechanical problems and inexperience crews most were limited to defensive operations. The lethality of the Tiger II’s high velocity, flat trajectory 88 mm, coupled with an excellent gunsight and in the hands of an experience crew achieved a high kill ratio against the armor of the Red Army. However like the French in the 1940’s the Tiger II’s deployed independently or in small groups to support infantry instead of as an armored spear tip.
The Sherman first saw combat with the British at El Alamien on October 23, 1942 then with the U.S. Army during Operation Torch the invasion of North Africa on November 8, 1942. The Sherman could be knocked out at typical combat ranges from a frontal attack conducted by a PzKpfw Mk. IV Ausf. H armed with the 75 mm KwK 40 gun. The Sherman’s 75 mm M3 L/38 main gun could defeat the PzKpfw Mk. IV with a turret shot but not against the hull frontal. The M61 AP round used by the M4 Sherman on average penetrates 62-67mm RHA plate at 500 yards at 30 degrees.
The Sherman enjoyed better off road handling due to its vertical volute suspension. When comparing the technical imbalance between German tanks and the Sherman Steve Zaloga states, ”The Sherman was ultimately a better weapon than heavier German tanks like the Panther since it could be fielded in adequate numbers to carry out its many and varied missions and was technically adequate to do its job. The Sherman was built in such large numbers that it could also be used to fill out the separate tank battalions attached to the infantry divisions; German infantry divisions were lucky to get a company of StuG III assault guns. The Sherman was not he best tank of World War II, but it was good enough.”
Two key battles that dominated 1943 on the eastern front, General Paulus surrendering the 6th Army at Stalingrad in February and Kursk in July. During the early winter the Russians had taken Kharkov only to give it right back to the Germans. However, the Kharkov battle led to the creation of a large salient in the center of the Russian Front around the city of Kursk. To the Germans it was another opportunity to regain the initiative, for the Russians it was a chance to defeat the Germans during the summer and launch a massive counter offensive. Operation Zitadelle would commence on July 5, 1943 with the Germans planning to use a two-prong attack against the salient, Army Group Center would attack the north shoulder and Army Group South would attack the southern shoulder. Stephen Fritz’s states “Of the 2,465 combat vehicles the Germans threw into action at the Kursk salient only 328 were modern battle tanks: 128 Tigers and 200 Panthers.”
German tactics by this stage of the war had evolved into a combined arms process where the infantry would win the breakthrough battle and the Panzers would then exploit the gap with a deep penetration to the rear. The Red Army knew this and was waiting with the most formidable system of fortifications in the world, an elaborate labyrinth of eight separate defensive lines consisting of antitank ditches, tank traps, minefields, barbed-wire obstacles, antitank guns, flamethrowers, and machine-gun nest that stretched 180 miles to the rear. The turning point occurred on the morning of July 12, 1943 at 0730 hours when elements of the Fifth Guards Tank Army attacked the Second SS Panzer Corps at the railroad junction near Prokhorovka. In a uncontrollable, chaotic scene of close quarter fighting involving armor from both sides by the end of the day the Russians are estimated to have lost between 235-493 tanks compared to the total loss of 3 for the Germans.
Between the two new tanks, the Tiger proved to be a formidable tank killer although its combat effectiveness was diluted by poor tactical employment and mechanical breakdowns. The Panther according to Zaloga, “It was technically immature and had a host of mechanical problems, which were aggravated by inadequate training of the crews when the tank was rushed into service.” The Panzer Mk. IV now upgraded with the L/48 gun and 80 mm front armor, was more reliable and available in numbers. The Red Army for the first time in the war had to resolve its own version of “tank panic” based on the poor performance of the T-34 against the new German tanks. The crash program initiated in late 1943 would provide the T-34 with a larger 85 mm gun and a new three-man turret.
In 1944 the M4A1 Sherman remained the tank for the U.S. Army but with a few improvements. Short-term solutions centered on appliqué armor being added to the hull and turret, midterm solution to prevent ammunition fires was wet storage – placing the rounds in bins surrounded by water in the floor – and a telescopic gun sight was added to supplement the periscope, along with a new mantlet. In January the U.S. Army began producing the M4A1 with new 76 mm gun with units arriving in England by April. The first large tank engagement involving the M4A1 was at Lorraine in September 1944, where the Germans lost 101 PzKpfw IV’s and 118 Panthers, manned with new inexperience crews, compared to only 200 tanks and tank destroyers for the U.S. Army. According to Zaloga it was a “lopsided victory for the U.S. Army and a clear example of where superior crew quality outweighs technological advantages.”
“The Red Army’s shift to the T-34-85 with the 85 mm gun, three man turret, commander’s vision cupola, the radio station located at the commanders position allowing him to coordinate his actions with other tanks, and engine reliability issues at acceptable levels would benefit Soviet tank operations. This highlighted the difference between German and Soviet philosophy during the war. Zaloga states, “German programs were willing to incur a continual string of production and logistics difficulties to acquire modest and in many cases irrelevant technical improvements. The Soviet designers were forced to compromise in order to ensure ease of production, high production rates and logistical harmony with the supply system.”
The T-34-85 was superior to the Panzer Mk. IV Ausf. J but not the Panther. The really advantage of the T-34-85 was numbers with only 300 Panthers on the Eastern Front production of the T-34-85 was 1200 a month in the spring of 1944. The other Russian tank to have an impact on the summer campaigns was the IS-2. Designed to breakthrough German defenses during offensive operations the IS-2 had good antitank performance due to its 122 mm size projectile, however the high-explosive round was devastating against infantry positions.
In 1944 the Germans were unable to maintain equilibrium due to the Soviet tank revival, transfers of armored units to France, and poor tank crew skills. However the Panther improved its automotive and reliability performance dramatically in 1944 with the Ausf. A and Ausf. G models and was manned with excellent crews. Tiger I production ceased in August after 1343 units and was replaced with the 68 metric ton Tiger II offering a updated 88 mm gun although this model debut on the front was plagued with mechanic breakdowns.
On June 22, 1944 the Soviets launched Operation Bagration and what slim chance the Germans had at maintaining a static defense to repulse the Soviets was now shattered due to the Russians using German principles of attack. Fritz states, “Using tightly concentrated infantry, artillery, and air attacks, they had focused on punching holes in a few key sectors, through which tank units burst and, without worrying about their flank, drove deep to the west in large encirclement movements.” By July 10, 1944 Army Group Center, with 28 divisions lost and 250,000 men killed, was destroyed giving the Germans their single worst defeat of the war. The Red Army reached the gates of Warsaw by the end of July and knocked Romania and the vital oil fields out of the war in August. By the fall the Soviets struggled with strong opposition in the Baltic and was involved in fierce fighting in Hungary.
The PzKpfw IV and Panthers made up the majority of tanks employed by panzer regiments. Critical loss of oil supplies forced a reduction in training levels, in addition with frequent breakdowns, led to a reduction in operational readiness in the panzer units. After two weeks of fighting during the Ardennes the 8 Panther battalions, had 105 tanks operational out of the starting force of about 415 Panthers.
Tank crews in the Ardennes received insignificant training due to lack of fuel and durability issues associated with the Panther. T-34-85’s and IS-2’s benefited from an increase in quality control during production, which reduced mechanical breakdowns. On January 12, 1945 marshal Georgi Zhurkov launched the Vistual-Oder campaign reaching the outskirts of Berlin by February. In February 1945, General Patton issued an order that all Sherman’s in the Third Army will have additional armor plate welded to the hull and turret. The source was equally obvious the numerous German and American tanks littering the Ardennes battlefield.
At the start of Operation Barbarossa the best tank on the battlefield was the Russian T-34/76 with its sloped armor, L-11/F-34 76 mm gun, and excellent mobility, however due to low numbers, poor crew training and inadequate tactics the tank was not used to its full potential. In 1943 the tank, in response to the T-34 threat, that had the most potential for the Wehrmacht was the PzKpfw Mk. IV Ausf H. The new 75 mm KwK 40 L/48 along with the additional armor gave good protection and firepower however the availability and reliability were its main advantage. If there was one tank that had a profound impact on the Eastern Front, it was the Tiger I. The Tiger I had excellent firepower, capable of firing both armor piercing and high explosive rounds, and plenty of armor protection. These attributes were downsized due to the Tigers high cost; low numbers, reliability issues, 38 percent on a daily basis, and being spread thin over a large front. The Panther had excellent firepower and armor protection, although venerable from the side, but was riddled with technical and reliability issues that affected its combat performance. I agree with Mark Healy on this matter, “the development of the Panther leads to the obvious conclusion that to commit a new weapon of this complexity to combat in this fashion, constituted incompetence of the first order on the part of those who ordered it.”
In 1944 the best quantity tank was the T-34-85 with its 85 mm main gun, three man turret, radios, reliability and availability. The best quality tank was the Panther Ausf. A and Ausf. G models which improved upon the reliability rates from 37 percent to 54 percent by the summer of 1944. Combine the firepower, armor protection and excellent crews this tank in 1944 would be a formidable foe with the only disadvantage being the lack of numbers. In the breakthrough heavy tank role the IS-2 is in my opinion the best heavy tank due to firepower, reliability and availability in numbers. By 1945 the German tank force had been wore down not due to tactical decisions but operational and strategic decisions from Berlin. German tanks performance fell significantly primarily due to inadequate trained crews, lack of fuel, and declining quality. The top quantity tank would be the T-34-85 however for my quality and quantity tank I would pick the M4A3E8 fast, reliable, availability and increased lethality in the HVAP round.
The main requirement that is seldom mention is combat experience and regardless what tank you may have the tank crew with the most combat experience was shown to win the engagement according to the Soviets 63 percent of the time. The next requirement was spotting the enemy first so you could fire first. It is here that the holy trinity comes into play with firepower being the first requirement. If you have a large enough gun capable of firing a round that would penetrate the enemy’s armor you stood a chance of wining the engagement. Armor comes in to play when you fail to identify the enemy first and have to take a hit and survive to be able to fire back. Mobility gives you the ability to shoot and move during an engagement, which in turn improves your survivability. This also affect doctrine, being able to attack and exploit a hole in the enemy’s defenses is vital to the success of an operation. Quality or Quantity? By 1944 the roles reversed with the Soviets now adopting the combine weapon doctrine and resembled the Germans in 1941. The Russians had superior number in tanks throughout 1943-1945 and sustained huge losses when fighting the small number of quality German tanks.
Fritz, Stephen. Ostkrieg: Hitler’s War of Extermination in the East. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2011.
Forczyk, Robert. Panther vs. T-34: Ukraine 1943. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2007.
Hart, Basil Henry Liddell. The Other Side of the Hill: Germany’s Generals, Their Rise and Fall, with Their Own Account of Military Events, 1939-1945. University of Michigan: Cassell, 1973.
Hart, Stephen. Panther Medium Tank 1942-45. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2003.
Sherman Firefly vs. Tiger: Normandy 1944. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2007.
Higgins, David. King Tiger vs. IS-2: Operation Solstice 1945. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2011.
Healy, Mark. Zitadelle: The German Offensive Against the Kursk Salient, 4-17 July 1943. Gloucestershire: The History Press, 2010.
Zaloga, Steven. Armored Champion: The Top Tanks of World War II. Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books, 2015.
 Basil Henry Liddell Hart, The Other Side of the Hill: Germany’s Generals, Their Rise and Fall, with Their Own Account of Military Events, 1939-1945. (University of Michigan: Cassell, 1973), 133.
 Steven Zaloga, Armored Champion: The Top Tanks of World War II. (Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books, 2015), 1.
 Stephen Hart, Panther Medium Tank 1942-45, (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2003), 41.
 Ibid., 5.
 Steven Zaloga, Armored Champion: The Top Tanks of World War II. (Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books, 2015), 6.
 Steven Zaloga, Armored Champion: The Top Tanks of World War II. (Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books, 2015), 8.
 Ibid., 19.
 Steven Zaloga, Armored Champion: The Top Tanks of World War II. (Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books, 2015), 14.
 Steven Zaloga, Panzer IV vs. Sherman: France 1944. (New York: Osprey Publishing, 2015). 11.
 Steven Zaloga, Armored Champion: The Top Tanks of World War II. (Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books, 2015). 16.
 Steven Zaloga, Armored Champion: The Top Tanks of World War II. (Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books, 2015), 22.
 Ibid., 23.
 Ibid., 26.
 Steven Zaloga, Panzer IV vs. Char B1 BIS: France 1940. (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2011), 51.
 Ibid., 27.
 Steven Zaloga, Armored Champion: The Top Tanks of World War II. (Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books, 2015), 33.
 Ibid., 37.
 Steven Zaloga, T-34/76 Medium Tank 1941-45. (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 1994), 3.
 Robert Forczyk, Panther vs. T-34: Ukraine 1943. (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2007), 20.
 Ibid., 4.
 Steven Zaloga, T-34/76 Medium Tank 1941-45. (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 1994), 14.
 Ibid., 39.
 Ibid., 38.
 Ibid., 39.
 Robert Forczyk, Panther vs. T-34: Ukraine 1943. (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2007), 33.
 Stephen Fritz,. Ostkrieg: Hitler’s War of Extermination in the East. (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2011), 155.
 Steven Zaloga, T-34/76 Medium Tank 1941-45. (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 1994), 33.
 Steven Zaloga, T-34-85 vs. M26 Pershing: Korea 1950. (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2010), 10.
 Robert Forczyk, Panzerjager vs KV-1: Eastern front 1941-43. (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2012), 38.
 Ibid., 66.
 Ibid., 68.
 David Higgins, King Tiger vs IS-2: Operation Solstice 1945. (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2011), 5.
 David Higgins, King Tiger vs. IS-2: Operation Solstice 1945. (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2011), 17.
 Ibid., 28.
 Ibid., 32.
 Ibid., 74.
 Steven Zaloga, Panzer IV vs. Char B1 BIS: France 1940. (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2011), 5.
 Steven Zaloga, Panther vs. Sherman: Battle of the Bulge 1944. (New York: Osprey Publishing, 2008), 4.
 Steven Zaloga, Armored Champion: The Top Tanks of World War II. (Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books, 2015), 125.
 Mark Healy, Zitadelle: The German Offensive Against the Kursk Salient, 4-17 July 1943. (Gloucestershire: The History Press, 2010), 154.
 Stephen Fritz,. Ostkrieg: Hitler’s War of Extermination in the East. (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2011), 155.
 Stephen Hart, Panther Medium Tank 1942-45, (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2003), 4.
 Robert Forczyk, Panther vs. T-34: Ukraine 1943. (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2007), 14.
 Stephen Hart, Panther Medium Tank 1942-45, (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2003), 42.
 Stephan Hart, Sherman Firefly vs. Tiger: Normandy 1944, (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2007), 9.
 Stephan Hart, Sherman Firefly vs. Tiger: Normandy 1944, (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2007), 19.
 Ibid., 17.
 Ibid., 18.
 David Higgins, King Tiger vs. IS-2: Operation Solstice 1945, (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2011), 5.
 David Higgins, King Tiger vs. IS-2: Operation Solstice 1945, (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2011), 26.
 Ibid., 25.
 Steven Zaloga, Panzer IV vs. Sherman: France 1944, (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2015), 24.
 Steven Zaloga, Armored Thunderbolt: The US Army Sherman in World War II,(Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books, 2008), 330.
 Steven Zaloga, Armored Champion: The Top Tanks of World War II. (Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books, 2015), 185.
 Stephen Fritz, Ostkrieg: Hitler’s War of Extermination in the East. (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2011), 343.
 Ibid., 350.
 Steven Zaloga, Armored Champion: The Top Tanks of World War II. (Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books, 2015), 197.
 Steven Zaloga, Armored Champion: The Top Tanks of World War II. (Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books, 2015), 231.
 Ibid., 237.
 Steven Zaloga, Armored Champion: The Top Tanks of World War II. (Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books, 2015), 213.
 Ibid., 214.
 Stephen Fritz, Ostkrieg: Hitler’s War of Extermination in the East. (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2011), 412-13.
 Steven Zaloga, Armored Champion: The Top Tanks of World War II. (Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books, 2015), 273.
 Steven Zaloga, Armored Thunderbolt: The US Army Sherman in World War II, (Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books, 2008), 284.
 Mark Healy, Zitadelle: The German Offensive Against the Kursk Salient, 4-17 July 1943. (Gloucestershire: The History Press, 2010), 156.