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German Panzer Identification Made Easy
By Tim Allen, edited by Jonathan Bocek


It is amazing even during WWII, the vast number of G.I.’s who swore they were shooting at a Tiger I when in fact it was a Panther.  Like the B-17, the Tiger I was the star of the German side when it came to armor.  If a big, loud German tank was shooting the crap out of everything in sight…….it was identified as a Tiger I.

This article will hopefully allow you to quickly identify German tanks by looking at their turret shape, road wheel configuration, & hull shape.  Since there were dozens of German tanks, assault guns and variants of each, I will not attempt to go over every vehicle.  Rather, I will take the 5 major tanks in the German arsenal.  Covering 1941 to 1945.

 
 
Panzer Kw III (Mk III)

The Mk III Panzer was the first of the medium tanks developed by the German Army.  It’s main purpose was to support Infantry and not as an assault weapon.  The tactic of guarding the flanks of Infantry was quickly thrown out of the window with the success of “Blitzkrieg”.  Both the Mk III and Mk IV and Tiger I tanks have very square angles and joints as a hull shape.  This was later changed to the more sloped look on the Panthers and Tiger II. 

 

Looking at the side, the Mk III is easily identified by its stair stepped hull.  Starting with a flat, rear deck that drops off almost straight down at the driver’s port, then sloping gently over the transmission gears (at the drivers feet) and then finally boxing off in the front.  The road wheels are also a dead give a way.  The top three support wheels remained on all versions of the Mk III.  The lower bogie wheels varied from five medium size bogie wheels (A model) to eight smaller bogie wheels (B, C and D models) while finally ending up with six small bogie wheels on models E through N.  All of the bogie wheels are mounted on leaf springs.  The turret was short in length with angles for the shape.  It had side hatches for the crew and some times a rear mounted storage bin (a “Rommel basket”).  The gun can be helpful as well in identifying a Mk III.  The early models had a 3.7cm L/45 main gun which later was changed to an L/60 and finally to a short, stubby L/24.  This last version is sometimes confused with a Mk IV model A through F1.  Some Mk III’s have even been shown to have side armor skirts mounted on them.  This was a later add on, probably done in the field.
 
 
 

Panzer Kw IV (Mk IV)


 
The mark IV was basically a beefed up version of the Mk III.  It was slightly longer, wider in stance. This tank became the back bone of the German Panzer Corp during the war in all theaters.

Looking from the side, the body shape and turret although slightly larger, was the same as the Mk III.  Side hatches and sometimes the rear storage bin.  However, the bogie wheels numbered eight and were paired in two’s on leaf springs.  The upper support wheels are also increased to four.  Models A through F1 had the short, stubby L/43.  This was a low velocity 7.5cm gun.  Many of these tanks fought in North Africa and some in the invasion of France.  The most popular version was the long barrel 7.5cm L/48 which was mounted on models F2 through J.  These are the panzers seen in photos strewn across Europe and Russia with and without armor skirts around the turret and sides.
 
 
 
Panzer Kw V (Panther)

The Panther tank was classified by the German Army as a heavy tank.  It was designed using lessons learned by the Russian T-34 in that it utilized sloping sides on the turret and hull.  This was found to have an advantage in the deflection of shells against the vehicle. 

Looking from the side: the hull is flat all the way across the top to the front of the drivers position were it slopes downward and then under to the bottom.  The sides of the hull are sloped outward from the top.  The rear of the vehical is sloped downward from the top.  The turret is longer and wider, again following the sloped design and has less angles as it predecessors.  Gone too is the rear storage bin.  Instead of a flat main gun mantlet, the main gun mantlet is bowed outward across the turrets front.  The upper support wheels are gone, replaced with eight, large over lapping road wheels that support the entire track.  The main armament is the long L/70  7.5cm high velocity gun.  The sloped angles of this tank make it easy to identify.
  
 
 
Panzer Mk VI (Tiger I)

Perhaps the most famous German tank because of it’s Ferocious 8.8 cm main gun, the Tiger I reached super star status among friend and foe.

The Tiger I hull kept the more squared angles as the Mk IV but was much larger overall.  From the flat hull going across the top to the dropped off area at the drivers view port.  Unlike the Panther or Mk IV,  turret was more of an egg shape going from front to back.  Meaning, it started off narrow at the gun mantlet.  As it went toward the back it made a wide “bulge” at the center then rounded  back off.  The sides of the turret were at 90’ and had no slope.  The road wheels used the same setup as the Panther but on a larger, wider scale.  Eight over-lapping, large road wheels which supported the track. 
 
 
 
Panzer VI (Tiger II)

The Tiger II was more than anything a Panther on steroids.  It roughly the same hull design as the Panther and the turret was a longer version of the Panther’s.  The main gun was the 8.8cm with a longer barrel.  The road wheels were again over lapping full size and full supporting but were increased to nine.  The name Tiger was used because of the 8.8.

There were two designs for the turret.  The Porsche design which had the commander’s hatch ring protruding from the side of the turret.  Also, the turret was slightly rounder.  The more common model was the Henschel turret which was similar to the sloped sided Panther but only longer.

* Porsche and Henschel were given the task to design the turret on the new tank.  Porsche pumped out 50 turrets before the final contract was given to Henschel.

 
 
 
At a glance

I hope this article has given you a quick overview of these vehicles.  I have not attempted to go in to great detail on each as there are many books already written on the subject of German tanks.  I have however, put together a small list of major things to look for when identifying German tanks

MK III

- 3 support bogie wheels
- 6 small road wheels
- Thin, 3.7cm main gun barrel with no muzzle break 

Mk IV

- 4 support bogie wheels
- 8 small road wheels
- Stubby or long 7.5cm main gun barrel

Panther

- Sloped sides on the turret, hull & back end
- Long 7.5cm main gun barrel
- 8 over lapping road wheels (no bogie wheels)

Tiger I

- Basic Mk IV hull shape but much larger
- 8 over lapping road wheels (no bogie wheels)
- Round shaped turret but flat not sloped
- Long, 8.8cm main gun barrel
- Very wide combat tracks

Tiger II

- Large hull, sloped sides and sloped, long turret
- 9 large over lapping road wheels
- Long, 8.8cm main gun barrel
- Very wide combat tracks

  


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