StuG III/ Sturmgeschütz III

Introduction
Short gunned StuG (Ausf A-Ausf E)
Long gunned StuG (Ausf F-Ausf G)
Combat Record – Short Gun
Combat Record – Long Gun
Standard Variants
Production Numbers

Introduction

When it first appeared the Sturmgeschütz, or as it is more commonly known the StuG III, was a unique weapon – a powerful artillery gun mounted on a fully armoured, tracked, low slung chassis based on the Panzer III medium tank, and designed to provide close support for the German infantry. By the middle of the Second World War it had developed into a potent anti-tank weapon, and the StuG III Ausf.G was produced in larger numbers than any single version of any other German tank or armoured fighting vehicle of the Second World War.

The StuG went through a series of name changes during its history. On 15 December 1936 it was officially named the PaK (Sfl.), or anti-tank gun (self-propelled). In 1937 it became the Pz.Sfl.III (s.Pak), or armoured self propelled vehicle, third model (heavy anti-tank gun). On 7 February 1940, as the first vehicles were close to entering service, the name changed again to the 7.5cm Kanone (Pz.Sfl.) or 7.5cm gun (armoured, self propelled).

The familiar name appeared on 28 March 1940, when the vehicle was renamed as the Sturmgeschütz, or assault gun, abbreviated to Stu.G. Even Sturmgeschütz was an abbreviation of the full name found in official documents of gepanzerte Selbstfahrlafette für Sturmgeschütz (7.5 cm Sturmjanone 40 L/43), or armoured Self-propelled gun carriage (7.5cm assault gun 40, length 43 calibres).

This changed again in 1943 when the first StuGs based on the Panzer IV began to appear. The StuG III now officially appeared, as the Sturmgeschütz III für 7.5cm Stu.K.40 L/48 (Sd.Kfz 142/1), or Assault Gun III for 7.5cm assault cannon 40, length 48 calibres.

Short gunned StuG (Ausf A-Ausf E)

Development of the StuG began in 1936 when the first specification was issued. The new vehicle was to provide artillery support for the infantry. It had to carry a gun with a calibre of 75mm, capable of firing for 6000m and penetrating 40mm of armour at 500 meters. It was to have all-round armour, although the early version was to have an open roof. Finally the vehicle was to be no taller than a standing man.

StuG III Ausf A - side plan
StuG III Ausf A - side plan

Daimler-Benz were given the contract to produce the chassis and superstructure of the new vehicle, and unsurprisingly chose to base it on their own Panzer III. Krupp got the contract to develop the new gun. Five experimental vehicles and five experiment guns were ready by 1938. They had soft steel superstructures and a fixed gun, which made them unless for combat, but they were used to improve the design and to develop tactical doctrines for the use of the new weapon. This period also saw the open roof replaced by an armoured roof, to protect the crew against incoming small arms fire when the vehicle was on the forward facing slope of a hill.

The StuG featured the same hull and suspension as the standard Panzer III. The superstructure and turret of the tank was replaced by a rectangular fighting compartment, which contained the commander, loader and gunner, while the driver remaining in position in the front-left of the vehicle. The gun itself did not quite have the range of movement that had been desired, but only by a small margin.

Long gunned StuG (Ausf F-Ausf G)

StuG III Ausf F L-43 - side plan
StuG III Ausf F L-43 - side plan

Although the eventual long gunned StuG was produced in response to a crisis on the Eastern Front, the idea of fitting a longer gun on the StuG chassis predated the war. In August 1938 Krupp started working on possible guns, and a wooden model was complete by November 1939. This gun reached the prototype stage in 1940 and series production was planned, but these plans were abandoned after the Germans encountered the T-34 and the KV-1 tanks early in the invasion of the Soviet Union.

StuG III in Greece
StuG III Ausf G
in the Ukraine, 1944

These Soviet tanks had armour that was simply too thick for the existing German tank guns to penetrate at typical combat range. The Germans reacted by developing long gun armed versions of both the Panzer IV and the StuG III. Rheinmetall received the contract to produce the StuG gun, eventually producing the 7.5cm Stu.K 40 L/43, designed to have a muzzle velocity of 770 meters per second with a 6.8kg shell. This made it capable of penetrating 80mm of armour sloped at 30 degrees at 1,000 meters.

Production of the new gun began in March 1942 and soon picked up speed. In the same month the first three StuG III Ausf.Fs, combining the chassis of the Ausf.E with the new long gun, were completed by Alkett in Berlin. They were later joined by Miag at Braunschweig and MAN at Nuernberg. Eventually 8,413 long-gunned StuG IIIs would be produced (from a total production run of 9,235). Production rose steadily from 1940, when only 15 were built per month, to 45 per month in 1941 and 66 per month in 1942, but the vast majority were built in 1943-44. 395 were built in October 1943, and even as late as December 1944 a total of 492 StuGs and StuHs (armed with a howitzer) were built.

German tests proved that the long-gunned StuG III could penetrate the front armour of the Cromwell, Churchill and 75mm M3 armed Sherman from well outside the effective range of those tanks, but that the 76mm M1A1 armed Sherman outranged the StuG. The situation was more even if side armour was involved. The frontal armour of the StuG was also vulnerable to fire from Russian 85mm and 122 mm guns, as seen in the T-34/85 and the heavy JS (or IS) series of tanks.

Combat Record – Short Gun

The short-gunned StuG was designed to operate in support of the infantry, following behind the advancing troops and providing high explosives artillery fire to help overcome any enemy strong points that were holding up the advance. This was the same role that was performed by the short-gunned versions of the Panzer IV, and could replace that vehicle when operating with tanks.

It was seen as an offensive weapon, although the lack of close-defence weapons and its light side armour meant that it was not to be used in close-quarters fighting.

At first the StuG was used to equip independent Sturmartillerie-Abteilung (assault gun detachments). These each contained three gun batteries, each with six StuGs divided into three platoons, giving each detachment eighteen StuGs. Later on the battery commanders were also given a StuG, bringing the theoretical total up to twenty-one. These batteries and detachments were not to be permanently attached to any particular division, but would be attached to unit for specific operations.

This system took some time to put in place. At the start of the German offensive in the west in May 1940 the StuG was in use with Sturmartillerie Batteries 640, 659, 660 and 665, and only twenty four vehicles had entered service by the end of May. One of these batteries then became part of the infantry regiment “Grossdeutschland” (the predecessor of the more famous infantry division of the same name).

The detachments began to take form in August 1940. By January 1942 a total of 18 Sturmgeschütz-Abteilungs had been formed (the name changed in February 1941), while three batteries had been formed as part of the SS Divisions “Das Reich”, “Totenkopf” and “Wiking”. This was the start of a process that saw the StuG spread out from the independent detachments to become an integrated part of a very large number of divisions and other units.

The StuG entered combat with the battery that had been attached to the Grossdeutschland regiment, during the advance into France in May 1940. While not as spectacular as the tank divisions, the Sturmgeschütz proved to be a very useful infantry support weapon, helping to overcome French strong points that might have delayed the German breakthrough.

The short-gunned StuG continued to be a valuable weapon during the early days of the fighting in Russia in the summer of 1941, and even as late as the summer of 1942 a total of 619 (of the 822 produced) were still active on the Eastern Front.

However, like the Panzer IV the short-gunned StuG, with its low velocity gun and HE shells proved unable to deal with the armour of the T-34 and KV-1 tanks. However valuable the StuG was as a close support weapon, anti-tank weapons were in greater demand, and production soon switched to the long gunned StuG. By July 1943 there were only 37 short-gunned StuGs left on the Eastern Front.

Combat Record - Long Gun

The long-gunned StuG III entered service with the Sturmgeschütz-Abteilungs of the infantry division “Grossdeutschland” and the 1st SS Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler in time to take part in the summer offensive of 1942.  

When it entered service the long gunned StuG III was a very capable tank killer, although its merits caused great controversy within the German army. Tank commanders tended to dismiss it as a waste of resources. The StuG was certainly a less effective offensive weapon than the tank, simply because it’s relatively limited arc of fire meant that if a target appeared at an angle to the direction of the attack the StuG had to stop, turn to face the new target, fire, and then turn back onto its original course. As a result the momentum of the attack was soon dispersed. It was also not very effective as a flank guard, or in any situation where enemy vehicles could appear from several angles. The constant use of the engine to change directions could also bog down the vehicle. In a counterattack carried out by the Grossdeutschland division during the fighting around Kharkov in March 1943 each StuG claimed 1.2 victories over Soviet tanks, while each Panzer IV claimed 4.7!

In contrast the StuG was a very effective defensive anti-tank weapon. Its low profile meant that it could find suitable hiding places more easily that the tanks, and was especially successful when posted just behind the current front line. In these situations it was normally clear where the enemy tanks would appear, and so the StuGs could be carefully placed to maximise their effectiveness. Between January and August 1944 the StuG brigades claimed to have destroyed 4,667 Soviet tanks at a cost of 713 write-offs. While these figures are probably overinflated, and can not take into account those Soviet tanks that were recovered and repaired after the Germans had been forced back, there is no doubt that the StuG was one of the most effective anti-tank weapons available to the Germans during the long period of their retreat on the Eastern Front.

As production levels increased StuGs were issued to an ever increasing number of units. Early in 1944 companies of StuGs were attached to the tank hunting detachments of infantry, grenadier, “gebirgs” and “Jäger” division, and the existing detachments were renamed as brigades. They even served with the Panzer divisions after Guderian was appointed as Inspector-General of the Panzer forces. Nine Panzer-Grenadier divisions were each given a StuG detachment with 42 vehicles in three companies, while two Panzer-Abteilungen (III/Pz.Rgt.24 and III/Pz.Rgt.36) each got four companies – two of 22 StuGs each and two of 22 Panzer IVs each.

Standard Variants

StuG III Ausf.A

The first version of the StuG (the Ausf.A) entered service just in time to take part in the campaign in the west in May-June 1940.

StuG III Ausf.B

The StuG III Ausf.B was very similar to the Ausf A, but with wider 40cm tracks in place of the 36cm tracks used on the earlier model.

StuG III Ausf.C

The StuG III Ausf.C saw the introduction of a periscopic gun sight in place of the direct vision sight used on earlier machines.

StuG III Ausf.D

The StuG III Ausf.D was virtually identical to the Ausf.C, with no visual differences. Internally a bell was added to help the commander get the attention of the driver. It is possible that this version of the StuG saw the introduction of face hardened armour.

StuG III Ausf.E

The StuG III Ausf.E was the final version of the machine to carry the short gun. The main change made from the Ausf.D was an increase in the size of the armoured pannier on the left of the superstructure and the addition of a new pannier on the right, increasing the storage space and making it easier to use the StuG as a command vehicle.

StuG III Ausf.F

The StuG III Ausf.F saw the introduction of the 7.5cm StuK40 L/43 gun. With its higher muzzle velocity and armour piercing ammunition this gun turned the StuG into a potent tank killer.

StuG III Ausf.F/8

The StuG III Ausf.F/8 was similar to the Ausf.F, but used the improved hull developed for the Panzer III Ausf.J, in the first change to the basic hull design of the StuG since it was introduced.

StuG III Ausf G

The StuG III Ausf.G was the final production version of the StuG. With a total of 7,720 built from new between December 1942 and the end of the Second World War it was produced in larger numbers than any other version of any German tank. It featured an improved superstructure with sloped side armour, and a commander’s cupola was added to the top of the fighting compartment.

Production Numbers

Ausf A

30

Ausf B

320

Ausf C

50

Ausf D

150

Ausf E

272

Ausf F

359

Ausf F/8.

334

Ausf G

7,720

Short-gunned

822

Long-gunned

8,413

Total

9,235

As will all German wartime production there are often disagreements about the exact numbers produced, especially later in the war, but the key point here is the overwhelming preponderance of the long-gunned StuG III Ausf F-G.

German Weapons of World War II, Stephen Hart . Covers a wide range of the weapons used by the Third Reich during the Second World War, from the pistol up to the battleship Tirpitz, and including a wide range of tanks, armoured vehicles, aircraft, artillery etc. All supported by a mix of full colour illustrations and contemporary photographs, giving an idea of vast range of weapons produced by the Germans during the war (Read Full Review)
cover cover cover

 

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (29 July 2008), StuG III/ Sturmgeschütz III , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_StuG_III.html

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