PANZER III Ausf. J/L/M


Flammpanzer III was designed in mind with fighting in the urban areas such as Stalingrad, but it was never to reach its destination. Eventually, Flammpanzer III equipped Panzer Regiment’s (Panzer Abteilung) Flame-thrower Platoons (Panzer-Flamm-Zug), each with seven vehicles. A report dated May 5th of 1941 gives the following distribution of the vehicles: 28 to Panzer Division Grossdeutschland, 15 to 6th Panzer Division, 14 to 1st Panzer Division, 14 to 24th Panzer Division, 14 to 26th Panzer Division and 7 to 16th Panzer Division along with single vehicle to Schule Wunsdorf. Report from 1943, states that from March to December, Flammpanzer III tanks were serving with following Panzer Divisions: 1st, 6th, 11th, 14th, 24th and Grossdeutschland in Russia and 16th and 26th in Italy. In July of 1943, 41 flame-thrower tanks were reported in service with 6th, 10th and Grossdeutschland Panzer Divisions in preparation for the attack on Kursk. Flammpanzer III’s design proved to be unsuccessful and vehicles returned for repairs (35) were rebuilt into standard combat tanks or Sturmgeschutz III assault guns / tank destroyers. In November of 1944, only 10 out of original 100 were repaired and issued to Panzer-Flamm-Kompanie 351, which saw service as late as April of 1945 with Heeres Gruppe Sud. Today, Panzerkampfwagen III (Fl) (chassis number 77651) captured in Italy can be seen in Koblenz Museum in Germany after being transferred to the museum from Aberdeen Proving Grounds in U.S.A.
In June of 1942, last PzKpfw III model entered production. New model Ausf N was produced until August of 1943 by Henschel, Wegmann, MNH, MIAG and MAN (chassis numbers 73851-77800). Ausf N tanks were produced on Ausf J (3), L (447) and M (213) chassis with total of 663 made. 37 additional Ausf N tanks were converted from rebuilt older PzKpfw III tanks. PzKpfw III Ausf N was also known as Sturmpanzer III. Ausf N was the same as Ausf J, L and M with the main difference being its main armament. It was armed with short 75 mm KwK 37 L/24, originally used in PzKpfw IV Ausf A to F1 tanks, which then rearmed with longer 75 mm guns. Additional armament consisted of standard two MG 34 machine guns. The internal ammunition stowage was modified and 56 (based on Ausf L chassis) or 64 (based on Ausf M chassis) rounds were carried. Ausf N did not have spaced armor as previous models because of the weight of the new 75 mm gun. Late production vehicles were fitted with modified type of commander’s cupola with single hatch instead of two-piece one as well as one-piece side turret hatches. Number of late vehicles was mounted with commander’s cupola used in PzKpfw IV Ausf G tanks. Vehicles produced from March of 1943 were factory mounted with 5mm hull and turret armor skirts (Schurzen). In addition, vehicles produced from early 1943 were factory applied with Zimmerit – anti-magentic paste. PzKpfw III Ausf N tanks were used for close support role. They were either assigned to Tiger Battalions (sPzAbt/sSSPzAbt) as a way to protect them from enemy infantry or to Panzer-Grenadier Divisions. Some source also state that variant designated Ausf O existed, although there is no proof of its existence.

rys dramSome of the later Panzer III variants were fitted with turret mounted storage bins (Gepack Kasten). Very common were the canister racks mounted on the turret and/or at the rear of the hull. During early stages of Operation Barbarossa in 1941, Panzer IIIs were equipped with single-axle trailers carrying extra fuel in order to increase their radius of operation. During production, PzKpfw III’s design underwent many changes including various modifications made on the turret (e.g. cupola, gun mantlet, vision slots, hatches, armor skirts) and hull (e.g. escape hatch, armor skirts) and superstructure (e.g. air intakes, spaced armor, headlights arrangement) components. Since mid 1943, Panzer IIIs were mounted with Schurzen – 5 mm armor skirts. During service and repairs, many Panzer III tanks were up-armored, rearmed and re-equipped with new equipment and components creating completely non-standard variants. Vehicles send to North Africa were equipped with additional air filters and different cooling fan reduction ratio. They were designated as (Tp), Tp being short for Tropisch / Trop / Tropen – tropical.
Panzer III saw an extensive service on all fronts until late 1943, when it was totally replaced by Panzerkampfwagen IV. As a common practice, Panzer III’s chassis/components became a base for few conversions and prototypes. By 1943 standards Panzer III was obsolete and lost its combat effectiveness what resulted in many being converted to perform various functions.
From February of 1942 to April of 1944, 262 Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf E/F/Gs were up-armored and converted into Artillerie Panzerbeobachtungswagen III (Sd.Kfz.143) – observation vehicles which served with Wespe and Hummel batteries until the end of the war. Panzerbeobachtungswagen III had a dummy gun mounted and in the place of original gun, Kugelblende (ballmount) for a 7.92 mm MG34 machine gun was installed. Sd.Kfz.143 had a crew of five and was equipped with powerful radio equipment.
In 1943, some Ausf L and Ms were converted into turretless Pionierpanzerwagen III – engineer tanks mounted with additional equipment. In mid 1944, 176(167) Panzer IIIs (including Ausf E, F and G) were converted into Bergepanzer IIIs – recovery vehicles fitted with additional equipment. Also in 1943/44 some number of early Panzer IIIs was converted into Schlepper – artillery tractors and Munitionspanzer – ammunition carriers.
From 1941 to 1943, Russians captured large numbers of PzKpfw III, Sturmgeschutz III and PzKpfw IV. Some were pressed into temporary service (e.g. being used as „Trojan Horses” or as „bait”) , while some were converted to assault guns designated SU-76i and SG‑122A.
Interesting fact is that Polish Tank Platoon of the Carpathian Lancers received captured (7 or 8) PzKpfw III for training purposes, while in Egypt in August of 1942.
The most successful conversion based Panzerkampfwagen III’s chassis was Sturmgeschutz III – assault gun/tank destroyer series, which remained in service with Finnish Army as late as 1967.
After the war ended, some 32 PzKpfw III were used by Norway along with Stug III Ausf Gs.
Small number of PzKpfw III tanks was also used by Czechoslovakia, including 4 rebuild Flammpanzer III tanks.

 

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