The Panzer III was the first German designed tank with a gun designed to penetrate armor and its development began in 1936 as a tank in the 15 ton category. The Panzer III served as the main German in the early part of World War II (WWII) as the main anti-tank weapon, while the Panzer IV was the close support tank to the Panzer III until it completely replaced the Panzer III and made it obsolete.
DESIGN OF THE PANZER III
The Panzer III had the same basic layout as its predecessors the Panzer I and II with an engine in the rear and the gearbox in the front; the Panzer III’s turret was larger than that of the Panzer II however and carried three of the 5 crew members that the tank carried – the commander, gunner and loader. The enlarged turret increased the rate of fire from the Panzer III and allowed each crew member to focus on a single job; the other crew members of the Panzer III were the driver and a radio operator or bow machine-gunner.
The Panzer III was made by Daimler-Benz and weighed 23 tonnes, used a 12-cylinder Maybach HL 120 TRM engine, had a torsion bar suspension system and traveled at speeds of 40 km/h (25 mph)on the road and 20 km/h (12 mph) off road. When it was first introduced the Panzer III outclassed most of the tanks that it went up against with its three man turret; however it fell short when it went up against the KV and T-34 tanks and so its gun was upgraded to a 50 mm cannon and its armor was also upgraded; this still proved inferior to the KV tank and so upgrading of the Panzer IV to fill the gap commenced.
PANZER III VARIATIONS
There were numerous versions of the Panzer III between 1937 and 1942; each modification was given a letter of the alphabet and there were versions from A-N. Panzer III A, B, C and D were all pre-productions that each sought to solve the suspension problem the Panzer III was having; none of the pre-production suspension systems were successful and an entirely different system was used for the first production models.
The Panzer III E and F were basically identical but used different ignition and air intake systems; the G model saw an upgrade in armor and fire power, while the H models had even more armor added to it. The I models were mentioned in Allied intelligence reports but did not actually exist. There were two J models, J and J¹ with the J model the armor was again increased and the hull was lengthened while the J¹ model was equipped with a longer, more powerful gun.
Version K was a command tank with a modified turret and version L again saw an upgrade in armor; model M had slight variations to model L such as a wading feature that allowed it to go through four to five feet of water without pre-preparation, and finally model N got a gun modification to a 7.5 cm gun.