July 9, 2014

Tactics Used by (Short-Barreled 75mm) Pz.Kpfw. IV Tanks

The Pz.Kpfw. IV tanks, armed with the short-barreled 75mm gun, remained in service even after the introduction of the long barreled ones, and were used mainly as close support weapons. The following tactics were observed at use in North Africa.

Pz.Kpfw. IV Ausf D of the 15th Panzer-Division
1. A Pz.Kpfw. IV Ausf. D at the US Army Ordnance Museum.
It bears the markings of the 15th Panzer-Division.

Company Tactics

The company commander travels at the head of his company until the leading platoons have gone into action. He then establishes a temporary command post with unimpeded observation of the battle area. Maintaining direction and contact is the responsibility of company headquarters personnel while the commander is at the head of his company.

The repair section, commanded by a noncom, travels with the combat echelon until the beginning of the battle.

In the attack the normal formations are the inverted wedge (Breitkeil) or extended line (geöffnete Linie). The Germans believe that effective fire on the part of the whole company can be obtained if the rear elements provide overhead fire or if they fill up or extend the front of their company to form a line.

Tank company formation
2. The company traveled using the column “Kolonne” formation with the company commander at the head. In the attack the preferred formations were the inverted wedge “Breitkeil” or the extended line “geöffnete Linie”. In the extended line formation all the platoons were deployed in a line, facing the enemy, so as all the tubes could fire.

In tank-vs-tank actions, the company is employed as a unit, whenever possible. When hostile tanks appear, they are engaged at once; other tasks are dropped. If time permits, the battalion commander detaches the medium platoons which have been attached to light companies, and sends them back to the medium company. At all times medium tanks attempt to fight with the sun behind them.

During the pursuit the medium tank units are employed well forward so that they can take full advantage of the longer range of their high-explosive shells.

Platoon Tactics

During the attack, medium platoons move forward in support of the first wave. Half the platoon gives covering fire while the other half advances. The whole platoon seldom moves as a body.

Caterpillar and Leapfrog advance
3. Caterpillar and Leapfrog advance.

The platoon commander directs by radio, and he can control fire either by radio or by firing guiding rounds to indicate particular targets.

Antitank weapons usually are engaged by tanks at the halt. If the nearest antitank weapon can be dealt with by the light tank company, the medium platoon engages more distant antitank weapons or attempts to blind them. Artillery is engaged in the same manner as antitank weapons. Enfilade fire is considered especially profitable.

If the light company encounters hostile tanks in the open, the medium platoons at once engage them with smoke shells in order to allow the light company to disengage and attack the opposition from a flank.

Moving targets and light weapons are engaged with machine-gun fire and by crushing; mass targets are engaged with high explosive.

When the whole platoon is employed, the advance may be made by mutual fire and smoke support. The platoon assists in the consolidation of a captured position by promptly laying down smoke and fire. Metal obstacles may be engaged with armor-piercing projectiles. The platoon does not move forward again until all hostile weapons in the prepared position have been knocked out.

In street fighting a medium platoon may be used in the second echelon to lend support. The tanks' guns are employed in cleaning up nests of resistance in houses; also the tanks themselves are used to crush lightly-built houses.

If a front-line tank formation is ordered to hold an objective until the arrival of infantry, the medium platoon gives protection by taking up a position on high ground affording a large field of fire.

The Individual Tank
Searching the horizon
4. Searching the horizon…

The gun is normally fired while the tank is at the halt. The machine guns mounted in the turret and hull can be employed successfully against mass targets—such as columns, reserves, limbered guns, and so on—at ranges up to 800 yards.

As soon as a target has been put out of action, or as soon as attacking German troops are so near a target that it is dangerous for tanks to fire, the tanks move forward by bounds of at least 200 to 300 yards. When changing position, the drivers take care to keep their correct position in the tactical formation.

Single tanks may be used for supporting action against prepared positions. The tank normally moves from a flank under cover of smoke. Embrasures are engaged with armor-piercing projectiles, and neighboring defenses are blinded by smoke. Tanks usually do not fire on static defenses at ranges of more than 400 yards. The assault detachments work their way forward under this protection, and as soon as lanes have been cleared through the antitank defenses, the tank follows and engages the next target. 

The Composition of a Panzer-Battalion in Tunisia

10th Panzer-Division was sent to Tunisia in late-November 1942. Its tank element, the 7th Panzer-Regiment, had an authorized strength of: 21 Pz.Kpfw. II; 105 Pz.Kpfw. III; 20 Pz.Kpfw. IV and 9 command tanks. A number of them were lost at sea, during transportation. The Panzer-Regiment was composed of two Panzer-Battalions. Each Panzer-Battalion had three light companies (Pz III) and one medium company (Pz IV). If the tactical situation called for medium platoons were committed to light companies, to augment their firepower.

U.S. War Department, Military Intelligence Service. Intelligence Bulletin, Vol. 01, No. 11. 1943.
Jentz, Thomas L. Panzertruppen. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 1996.
Schneider, Wolfgang. Panzertaktik. Winnipeg: J.J. Fedorowicz, 2000.

Photos attribution
1. Galen Parks Smith, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL, via Wikimedia Commons
2., 3. author
4. Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-748-0096-37/Kempe/CC-BY-SA-3.0-de, via Wikimedia Commons