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Weapons of World War Two

Panzerkampfwagen III

Version depicted: Ausf E

Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf E

During the First World War, the tanks used in some marginal operations did not give satisfactory results. Hence, many western military chiefs (with exception of General De Gaulle, who almost prophetically had recognized its importance) had underestimated the usefulness of this new war instrument. But the Germans did not think like that. The Reichswehr, the German Army still linked to the Versalles Treaty, and still within the narrow limits set by that treaty, had manifested a huge interest for the tanks, lucidly glimpsing their great possibilities. Not being allowed to build true tanks, the Germans used in the maneuvers false tanks formed by automobiles "armored" with fabric or paperboard, or also plasterboard imitations moved by two soldiers like the clowns do in the circus with a horse disguise.

It can also be said that, stimulated by the prohibition of building true tanks, the German military minds approached the work with greater determination to devise them larger and more powerful. With the memories of the grim massacres that had bleed out the infantry and dishonoured the military art during the Great War, the clever minds of the Reichswehr saw in the functional utilization of the tank a new and more effective way of making the war. It was precisely in those years when the Germans, eager of "revenge", started to study a future line of war by using large groups of tanks (armored divisions) able to operate at maximum speed without having to wait the slow and laborious march of the infantry.

Until then, for many generals formed in the battlefields of the preceding war, the infantry continued being the main weapon to whose service should be used all the others. The tank, therefore, should be "at the service" of the infantryman. Its main objective was to accompany him, open a way for him and protect him from the enemy. But the Germans inverted the situation. They, or better said, some of them (because the old generals showed great perplexity) discovered a revolutionary weapon in the tank. The advocates of the primacy of the tank affirmed that in the future wars the enemy territory should not be conquered meter by meter at the pace of infantry, but with the fast irruption of armored units which, after penetrating deeply inside, would form "pockets" in which the enemy forces would be at the mercy of the infantry.

Nowadays this concept could seem indisputable, but then it raised many polemics. The mere idea of reducing the infantry (the "queen of the battles") to the limited role of a later intervention to regroup the prisoners was considered absurd. Excellent minds of the German Army, such as Beck and Halder, opposed this idea with all their energies. And Hitler, whose military "genius" has been put under question many times, that time decided rightly and enthusiastically supported the thesis from General Guderian and others who at all costs supported the necessity of an extremely mobile Army.

When the campaign of Poland started, the German Army had six armored divisions. Half of the 288 tanks that constituted a division were PzKpfw (Panzerkampfwagen) I, also known as "sardine cans" because of their weak armor and armament of two machine guns (they weighed six tonnes). Later came the PzKpfw II (nine tonnes and one 20-millimeter cannon), the PzKpfw III (15 tonnes and one 37-millimeter cannon) and the PzKpfw IV (20 tonnes and one 75-millimeter cannon). But for imposing the PzKpfw IV, in number of 24 in some divisions, it was required the authority of Hitler, because the generals of the High Staff considered it to be too heavy. But these Panzerdivisionen would revolutionize the art of war, allowing Hitler to conquer Europe.

The truth is that they did not deserve so much. In fact, the success achieved led to exaggeratedly overrate their strength, and this widespread conviction still remains nowadays. It was not so much the power of the Panzerdivisionen (very relative in fact) which revolutionized the way of making the war, but its intelligent and functional utilization. If Hitler had used his tanks as support of the infantry according to the former uses (and as the other armies continued doing) the Blitzkrieg would have not existed nor the outstanding successes that it brought with it.

Year: 1939

Weight: 12.5 tonnes

Length: 5.78 meters

Width: 2.95 meters

Height: 2.51 meters

Ground clearance: 41 centimeters

Maximum armor: 30 millimeters

Engine: Maybach HL 120 TRM of 300 horsepower

Maximum speed on road: 40 kilometers/hour

Maximum speed on countryside: 18 kilometers/hour

Operational range on road: 175 kilometers

Operational range on countryside: 97 kilometers

Consumption for 100 kilometers: 183 liters

Crew: 5

Armament: One 37-millimeter cannon; two 7.92-millimeter machine guns

Maximum surmountable trench: 2.30 meters

Maximum surmountable step: 0.60 meters

Maximum surmountable slope: 35 degrees

Fording: 0.80 meters

Also in Weapons of World War Two

7TP light tankChurchill infantry tankS-35 medium tank