Saturday, July 26, 2014
Panzer Jager 38t Marder III
The Marder III is the name for a series of World War II German tank destroyers built on the chassis of the Panzer 38(t). The German word Marder means "marten" in English. They were in production from 1942 to 1944 and served on all fronts until the end of the war.
Even in the early stages of Operation Barbarossa, the Wehrmacht already felt the need for a more mobile and more powerful anti-tank solution than the existing towed anti-tank guns such as Pak 36 or tank destroyers like the Panzerjäger I. This need became urgent in 1942, when anti-tank shells failed to penetrate the armour of new Soviet tanks like the T-34 and KV-1.
As an interim solution, it was decided to use captured French vehicles like the Lorraine (Marder I), obsolete tanks such as German Panzer II (Marder II), and Czech-supplied Panzer 38(t) (Marder III) as the base for makeshift tank destroyers. The result was the Marder series, which were armed with either captured Soviet 76.2mm F-22 Model 1936 divisional field guns, or German 7.5 cm PaK 40 anti-tank guns for later versions. Due to weight and space constraints of these small chassis, Marder series were not fully armored. Thin upper armor protection was provided only for the front and sides against shrapnel and small arms only. All Marder series had open tops. Some were issued with canvas tops to protect the crew from the elements. In this regard, Marder was more of a gun carriage than a proper Panzerjäger that could exchange shells with enemy tanks.
While the Panzer 38(t) had largely become obsolete as a tank in early 1942, it was still an excellent platform for adaptation into a tank destroyer, among other roles. Since the Soviet 76.2 mm field gun was captured in large quantities, the decision was made to mate this gun to the Panzer 38(t).
To do so, the production of the Panzer 38(t) Ausf. G was stopped and a modified superstructure was bolted onto the standard tank chassis. The upper structure mounted the gun and an extended gun shield, giving very limited protection for the commander and the loader. Armour protection overall ranged from 10 to 50 mm with no armor at all above and behind the gun compartment. The gun, commander and loader were located on top of the engine deck. It had a higher silhouette than the original Panzer 38 (t), which made it more vulnerable to enemy fire.
The now-called 7.62 cm PaK 36(r) was rechambered to be able to use standard German 75 mm ammunition, of which 30 rounds could be carried inside the vehicle. Apart from the main gun, there was a 7.92 mm machine gun mounted in the hull.
This tank destroyer was put into production as the Panzerjäger 38(t) für 7.62 cm PaK 36(r), Sd.Kfz. 139. A total of 344 vehicles were built in three series from April to November 1942. Chassis numbers were 1360-1479, 1527-1600 and 1601-1750.
The next variant of the Marder III fielded the standard 7.5 cm PaK 40 German anti-tank gun on a slightly modified Panzer 38(t) Ausf. H chassis. This chassis had the engine still in the rear of the vehicle but, unlike the previous model, this vehicle utilized the fighting compartment of Panzer 38 in the center. Center compartment allowed crew to stay low in the center of the vehicle, lowering crew exposure to small arms fire and fragments. But because of the rear-mounted engine, there was only enough room for two men to stand in the center. Large side armors gave additional protection for the crew. However, the horseshoe shape armor thinly protected front and side only. The rear and the top were exposed. Thirty-eight rounds of ammunition for the gun were carried. As with the Sd.Kfz.139, this vehicle also carried a 7.92 mm machine gun in the hull, of Czech manufacture.
The full name of the Ausf. H was the 7.5 cm PaK 40/3 auf Panzerkampfwagen 38(t) Ausf. H, Sd.Kfz. 138. a total of 275 vehicles were built in two series from November 1942 to April 1943. An additional 175 vehicles were converted from Panzer 38(t)'s in 1943. Chassis numbers of new vehicles were 1751–2075 and 2121–2147 (overlapping with simultaneous Grille production).
The last Marder III variant was based on the Geschützwagen 38(t) Ausf. M, a purpose-designed vehicle for self-propelled gun usage, again armed with the 75 mm PaK 40 anti-tank gun. Ausf. M was the final variant of the Marder series and was a significant improvement over previous models, with its lower silhouette, sloped armour and much more functional fighting compartment. In this variant, the engine was moved from the rear to the middle between driver and the rest of the crew. Because there was no engine in the rear, the gun and the crew did not have to sit on top of the engine deck as in previous models. The fighting compartment could be lowered down to the bottom floor level where the engine used to be. This decreased crew exposure, as well as visibility. Unlike the previous two Marder IIIs, the fighting compartment was closed at the rear protecting the crew up to their midsection. It stayed open-topped. It could only carry 27 rounds of ammunition. The machinegun port at the front was eliminated in the Ausf. M in favor of an MG 34 or MG 42 carried by the crew. In the previous two models, the commander served as a gunner. However, in Ausf. M, the radio man moved to the rear with the commander and gunner, serving as a loader. Combat effectiveness increased because the vehicle commander was freed from manning the gun.
The full name of the Ausf. M was Panzerjäger 38(t) mit 7.5 cm PaK 40/3 Ausf. M, Sd.Kfz. 138 . It was the variant which was produced in the largest numbers, in total 942 vehicles were built in two series from May 1943 to May 1944. Chassis numbers were 2166–2600 and 2601–3600 (overlapping with simultaneous Grille and Flakpanzer 38(t) production).
The various Marder IIIs fought on all fronts of the war, with the Sd. Kfz. 139 being used mainly at the Eastern Front, though some also fought in Tunisia. In February 1945 some 350 Ausf. M were still in service.
The Marder IIIs were used by the Panzerjäger Abteilungen of the Panzer divisions of both the Wehrmacht and the Waffen SS, as well as several Luftwaffe units, like the Hermann Göring division.
The Marder IIIs were mechanically reliable, as with all vehicles based on the Czechoslovak LT-38 chassis. Their firepower was sufficient to destroy the majority of Soviet tanks on the battlefield at combat range.
The Marder' IIIs weaknesses were mainly related to survivability. The combination of a high silhouette and open-top armor protection made them vulnerable to indirect artillery fire. The armor was also quite thin, making them highly vulnerable to enemy tanks and to close-range machinegun fire.
The Marders were not assault vehicles or tank substitutes; the open top meant that operations in urban areas or other close-combat situations were very risky. They were best employed in defensive or overwatch roles. Despite their mobility they did not replace the towed antitank guns.
In March 1942, before Marder III appeared, Germany already started production of StuG III assault gun with comparable anti-tank capability (StuG III Ausf. F and later variants). These were fully armored vehicles, built in much greater numbers than vulnerable Marder III. Among many German fully armored tank destroyers, also one based on Panzer 38(t) chassis was built in numbers since 1944: the Jagdpanzer 38(t). The weakly armored Marder series were phased out of production in favor of the Jagdpanzer 38(t) but Marder series vehicles served until the end of the conflict.