The Panzer IV Tank: Germany’s Workhorse


Panzer IV Photo Album

A Panzer IVG at the U.S. Army Ordnance Museum. Photo by Mark Pellegrini.

A Panzer IVG at the U.S. Army Ordnance Museum. Photo by Mark Pellegrini.

The Panzer IV was the most common German tank during World War II and, as the only one produced throughout the entire war, this “workhorse” saw action everywhere the German army was deployed.

The medium tank was initially designed to support the Wehrmacht infantry; its added armor compensating for its slower speed while other tanks, like the Panzer III, which was faster and had a smaller-caliber gun, took on enemy tanks.

Gen. Heinz Guderian on the Eastern Front in 1941. Photo from the German Federal Archives

Gen. Heinz Guderian on the Eastern Front in 1941. Photo from the collections of the German Federal Archives in Koblenz

“Our opinion then was that for the eventual equipment of Panzer Divisions we would need two types of tank: a light tank with an armor-piercing gun and two machine guns… and a medium tank with a large-caliber gun and two machine guns,” Gen. Heinz Guderian wrote in his book Panzer Leader.

“The medium tanks would enable the medium company of the battalion to perform its dual role of, first, supporting the light tanks in action, and, secondly, of shooting at targets out of range of the light tanks’ smaller-caliber guns,” Guderian continued.

However, lighter tanks had a hard time handling Russian T-34 and KV-series tanks, so the Panzer IV eventually assumed the anti-armor role.

Like many German weapons, the Panzerkampfwagen IV was designed while the country was still technically bound by the Treaty of Versailles, which, among other restrictions, forbade “the manufacture and the importation into Germany of armored cars, tanks, and all similar constructions suitable for use in war.”

In 1934, the German military asked a number of defense companies to develop a “medium tractor” that weighed less than 24 tonnes and had a 7.5 cm cannon. The vehicle was not officially called a “tank” in an effort to disguise its purpose.

The generations-old steel production company, Krupp, finished the first Panzer IV in 1936, a model dubbed the “Ausführung A” (IVA).

This version had a 7.5 cm main gun with a 24-caliber length (L/24) that was designed to fire mainly high-explosive shells, but could penetrate 4.3 cm of armor at ranges up to 700 meters. It had a coaxial MG34 on the main turret and a second MG34 on the front of the hull, but it was lightly-armored.

A Panzer IVA before the war. Photo by Josef Gierse.

A Panzer IVA before the war. Note the shorter main gun. Photo by Josef Gierse.

Over the next three years (versions IVB through IVD), the tank got heavier and improved its speed, thanks to more armor and a more powerful engine. According to The Panzer Legions by Samuel W. Mitcham Jr., the German military adopted the Panzer IV for general use on Sept. 27, 1939, near the end of the invasion of Poland.

In late 1941, Germany decided to improve upon the latest version, the IVF, and upgraded its main cannon to a 7.5 cm KwK 40 L/43, which was longer and more than twice as powerful than the previous L/24 cannon – able to pierce 7.7 cm of steel armor at more than 1,800 meters. Adolf Hitler had ordered this change “to give the Panzer IV a gun with the killing power to take on the T-34 and KV tanks,” says the narrator of German War Files – The Panzer IV Heavy Tank. This version was dubbed the IVF2 and then renamed the IVG.

The IVG was further modified with more armor and, in April 1943, an L/48 cannon that further increased its power. A few months later, the IVH rolled out of factories with more armor improvements and Zimmerit paste to demagnetize the vehicle as a precaution against magnetic anti-tank mines. The changes brought the tank’s weight up to 25 tonnes, slowing its speed.

The final version of the tank, the IVJ, addressed the mobility issues of the IVH, but its production (and by extension, its design) was greatly simplified to quickly replace heavy late-war losses and has been considered of lesser quality than its predecessors. By the end of the war, more than 8,500 Panzer IVs had been produced.

A Panzer IVG in a garage in the Algerian motor pool during the first mission of Allied Assault.

A Panzer IVG in a garage in the Algerian motor pool during the first mission of Allied Assault.

The Panzer IV represented in Medal of Honor: Allied Assault appears to be the IVG and shows up in the North AfricaNormandy, and Brittany campaign levels. By November 1942, when “Lighting the Torch” takes place, Gen. Erwin Rommel had received a number of Panzer IVGs, so it’s plausible that Lt. Mike Powell could’ve encountered them as sabotage targets at the motor pool and airfield.

Later, as Powell searches the bocage for German Nebelwerfers, he and his squad encounter a few destroyed Panzer IVGs, but never face an operable one. Although many Panzer IVs took part in the Normandy campaign (comprising about half the German armor in the area), the German War Files documentary notes that very few survived.

A tank commander climbs out of his destroyed Panzer IV on a road near Brest.

A tank commander climbs out of his destroyed Panzer IV on a road near Brest, France.

Powell faces his first occupied Panzer IV in Landerneau, France, as it approaches the building where the tank crew is hiding. It must be destroyed before Powell can progress.

Following this mission, Powell and the tank crew face off against a number of Panzer IVs as they drive the King Tiger towards Brest.

They can be destroyed in one to three hits, and, once they’re on fire, up to three crew members may escape alive via the hatch atop the turret.

The Panzer IV was crewed by five soldiers: a commander, a gunner, a loader, a radio operator, and a driver. The commander, gunner, and loader all sat in the turret, with the commander under the hatch, or commander’s cupola. The other two men were positioned at the front of the hull.

In Allied Assault, the tank commander is usually the first one out of the tank, and once the surviving crew members, if any, get on their feet, they futilely fire at the King Tiger with Walther P38 pistols, MP40 submachine guns or Kar98k rifles.

Pistols and submachine guns likely would’ve fit inside the tank, but the longer Kar98k (1.1 meters, or 43.7 inches), though technically a carbine, seems a bit long to be comfortably carried inside a tank.

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~ by John on September 22, 2014.

One Response to “The Panzer IV Tank: Germany’s Workhorse”

  1. Reblogged this on Suppressing Fire.

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