Friday, August 8, 2014

Tanks that Shaped WWII - Panzer IV

Panzer IV
Russia, 1941 – the German tanks led the advance to the Russian tundra under Operation Barbarossa. Hitler desire to crush the heart of communism and to gain the huge oil supply in the Caucasus. Among the tanks that pushed back the Red Army was the Panzer IV. Tanks shaped World War II. It moved battles from trenches to open plains. Mobility overtook static strategies. And the Panzer IV was among the tanks that played during World War II.

The humiliating defeat of Germany during World War I led tank development to be made underground. Under the Treaty of Versailles, allies barred Germany to develop tanks. Any form of research would be deemed a violation by the allies. Thus, the German High Command could only push tank development secretly and covertly.

In the early 1930’s, German pushed for developing of their own tanks. Panzer I, II, and III were the result of research and design by various arm manufacturers of Germany. Light tanks came in form of Panzer I and II. Medium tanks were then designed in order to support the light tanks. The Panzer III was first of the medium tanks developed. Following the Panzer III, the German Army Weapons Agency looked for a new medium tank with more firepower than the previous panzers.

The development of the Panzer IV then began in 1934. Under the codename Begleitwagen or a tractor, the German Army Weapons Agency announced the need for tank designs. Rheinmetall-Borsig, MAN, and Krupp passed their own design to the Agency. Eventually, the prototype that the Agency approved came from Krupp. After two years of continuous development, the result was unveiled in 1936.

The Panzerkampfwagen IV (PzKpfw IV) Ausf. A was introduced. Crewed by five men, It had a 300-horsepower petrol diesel with a top speed of 25 miles per hour. It was armed with a short barreled 75mm main gun that had the capability of firing different types of ammo, from armor piercing to smoke. It also had 7.92 mm machine gun. It was protected by a 20mm armor in the turret and 14.5mm in the hull. 35 Panzer IV Ausf. A were made. During the German invasion of Poland, the Ausf. A was tested.

Production of new types of Panzer IV continued. In 1938, Ausf. B were produced with developments in the armor. On the same year, the Ausf. C with better protection were released. Ausf. C had thicker armor of 60mm in the front and 40mm in the side. Then a year later, the Ausf. D were unveiled. Ausf. D could be retrofitted with spaced armor. In 1940, 278 Panzer IVs served during the invasion of France. From their service in France, General Heinz Guderian saw the value of medium tanks and requested the increase of its production. Thus, in 1941, 531 Panzer IV led Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union. 

In Russia, they faced though battles against the more superior T-34s. In order to face the threat, Germany unveiled the Panzer V. Production then shifted from Panzer IVs to new Panzer V or Panthers. But Panzer IV continued to serve the Third Reich. 964 chassis of the Panzer IV helped to produce the new anti-tank Jagpanzers. New models of Panzer IV continued to be released until it had 10 types. By the end of the war, 8,000 to 9,000 chassis of Panzer IVs were produced. Some Panzer IVs were sent to different countries like Syria, where it continued to serve as a battle tank until 1967.

The Panzer IV were a great improvement to the tank force of Germany. Its firepower and armor protection led the German Army to victory in France. It also played a key role in the advance of Germany in Russia. Later on, it became the basis of further tank development resulting to new tanks like Panzer V and Jagpanzers. Panzer IV helped to shaped the Second World War.

Axelrod, A. (ed.). Encyclopedia of World War II. New York: Fact on File, 2007.

Bishop, C. The Encyclopedia of Weapons of World War II: The Comprehensive Guide to Over 1,500 Weapons Systems, Including Tanks, Small Arms, Warplanes, Artillery, Ships, and Submarines. New York: MetroBooks, 2002.

Bull, S. Encyclopedia of Military Technology and Innovation. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2004.

Green, M. & G. Green. Panzer at War. Minnesota: Zenith Press, 2005.

Zabecki, D. (ed.). World War II in Europe: An EncyclopediaNew York: Garland Pub., 1999. 

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