Panzerkampfwagen 38(t)

Development
Description
Combat
Poland
France
Greece
The Eastern Front
Variants
Other Vehicles built on Pz.38(t) Chassis
Production
Stats (Tank Variants)

The Panzerkampfwagen 38(t) began life as the Czech LT-38 light tank, but the vast majority of them were produced after the German takeover of Czechoslovakia and they were an important element in the German armoured forces during the invasion of France, the brief campaign in Greece and the early part of the invasion of the Soviet Union. It then became the basis of the Jagdpanzer 38(t) Hetzer tank destroyer, an important weapon in the final defensive battles of the war.

Although the LT-38 was officially designated as a light tank it compared well with the early versions of the Panzer III and Panzer IV. The Panzer III received a 50cm gun in the summer of 1940, while the Panzer IV didn’t equal the Pz.38(t)s' armour until the Ausf D and didn’t gain a superior anti-tank gun until the Ausf G of early 1942. Its main weakness compared to the Panzer IV in particular was size - the German tank was twice as heavy, had twice as powerful an engine, was one meter longer, 79cm wider and 24cm taller, giving it much more space for future upgrades. The final versions of the Pz.38(t) carried the same gun as the first versions, and saw frontal armour double from 25mm to 50mm. In contrast the Panzer IV went from a 7.5cm L/24 gun and 15mm frontal armour to 7.5cm K/48 gun (twice the barrel length and much more powerful) and 80mm frontal armour in places.

Development

The LT-38 emerged from a period of competition between the two main Czechoslovak arms firms, Skoda and CKD. CKD (Ceskomoravska Kolben Danek) had been formed by the merger of two earlier industrial firms and was named after its location of operation - Ceskomoravksa translating roughly as Bohemian-Moravian) and two of the original founders - Kolben and Danek. After the German invasion it was renamed Bohmisch-Mahrische-Maschinenfabrik (Bohemian-Moravian Machine Factory), abbreviated to BMM.

In 1933 CKD won a contract to produce fifty LT vz.34 light tanks. These had been developed as the private venture P-II and were armed with a 3.7cm tank gun and carried 15mm of armour. After accepting the LT-34 the Czechoslovak army issued its own specifications for new light and medium tanks. CKD and Skoda both produced designs in response - the CKD P-II-a and the Skoda S-II-a. Skoda won the contest and in October 1935 an order was placed for the first 160 LT-35 tanks. Production was split between the two firms.

At first the LT-35 (Panzerkampfwagen 35(t) in German service) suffered from reliability problems, and in October 1937 the Czechoslovak ministry of defence issued a specification for a replacement light tank. By this time CKD was already working on a new line of armoured vehicles. They decided to abandon the small road wheels used on earlier designs and adopted a Christie-type system, with four large road wheels on each side and layers of leaf springs for suspension. This design was used on the AH-IV tankette which was produced in several versions for the export market on the (LT)TNH series of light tanks, which were exported to Iran, Peru, Switzerland and Latvia.

CKD produced a modified version of the TNH for the new Czechoslovak specification - the TNHPS. The new tank won the contest and in April 1938 an order was placed for 150, as the LT vz.38 or LT-38. Events soon overwhelmed Czechoslovakia. In September 1938 the country was forced to turn the Sudetenland over to Germany. After this blow most defence contracts were cancelled, but work continued on the tanks. In March 1939 the Slovak portion of the country seceded, and the Germans occupied the Czech area, which became the Protectorate of Bohemia-Moravia. The Germans also took over the strong Czech arms industry - CKD became BMM and the LT-38 became the Panzerkampfwagen 38(t), t standing for 'tschech', the German for Czech. The original Czech tanks became the Ausf A, with 78 delivered by September 1939, and a series of improved version carried production of the gun tank into 1942. The Pz.38(t) was also used as the basis of a series of other vehicles, the most successful of which was the Hetzer tank hunter.

Description

The Pz.38(t) had four large road wheels, with a raised trailing wheel and a raised drive wheel at the front. The drive wheel was carried higher than the trailing wheel, giving the Pz.38(t) the same look as the Pz.35(t), with the upper part of the track rising up towards the front of the vehicle (unlike the standard German layout where the upper part of the track was level with the ground).

The turret was mounted centrally between the tracks, but slightly nearer the front than rear. It was of the same shape as that on the Pz.35(t), with slightly sloping side armour, a circular plan with straight mantlet, a slightly extended rear (mainly used for shell storage) and a cupola on the left hand side.

The main fuselage was a standard design for the period, with a lower front area and a vertical front plate at the front of the fighting compartment. On early versions the radio operator's position jutted out ahead of the driver's position, but a straight plate was introduced on the Ausf D.

The turret carried a 3.7cm A7 gun, which was longer than the 3.7cm gun of the Pz.35(t). It was also armed with a machine gun in a ball mount. A second machine gun was mounted in the front of the superstructure

The Pz.38(t) was visually very similar to the Pz.35(t), with the external difference being the four large road wheels. It was shorter and lighter than the Pz.35(t), but very slightly wider. It was still quite a narrow tank, and this would limit further development, making it impossible to mount larger guns in the turret.

The Pz.35(t) had carried its engine and drive wheels at the rear. On the Pz.38(t) the six-cylinder water cooled engine remained at the rear, but the drive wheel was moved to the front, connected to the engine by a drive shaft that ran through the centre of the tank.

In Czech service it carried a crew of three - driver and radio operator in the front and commander/ gunner/ loader in the turret. The Germans managed to fit a fourth crewman into the tank - a loader who operated in the turret. This must have made the vehicle very cramped, for British tests on the three-man version suggested that space was limited.

The Germans also added a voice radio and an intercom system for the tank. In 1939-40 it was a well balanced vehicle, with a good tank gun, thick armour and good manoeuvrability. As tank design progressed the narrow hull meant that it was difficult to upgrade or to add a larger turret that could take a more powerful gun or a loader, and its usefulness as a gun tank faded away, but in 1940 the Pz.38(t) played a major part in the success of the German armoured forces.

Combat

Poland

Seventy eight Pz.38(t)s were on the inventory at the start of September 1939, with 57 in the hands of the field army (this made it the least numerous of all German tank types during the Polish campaign).

On 1 September 1939 3.leichte Division had 55 PzKpfw 38(t)s and two command tanks, the full available inventory. Seven were reported lost in September 1939, so the Pz.38(t) performed rather better than the Pz.35(t) which suffered from a large number of mechanical failures in the same period.

On 16 October 1939 3.leichte Division became the 8th Panzer Division. It kept the existing Panzer-Abteilung 67, and gained a newly formed 10th Panzer Regiment. This regiment had three Panzer-Abteilungen each of which had a light panzer company equipped with the PzKpfw 38(t). At the start of 1940 8th Panzer had 126 PzKpfw 38(t)s and 12 command tanks, as well as 11 Panzer Is, 55 Panzer IIs and fourteen Panzer IVs.

France

237 were on the German inventory at the start of May 1940. The type was now in use with the 7th Panzer Division (91 gun tanks and 8 command tanks) and the 8th Panzer Division (116 gun tanks and 15 command tanks)

8th Panzer formed part of 16th Panzer Corps, alongside the 6th Panzer Division, which was equipped with the PzKpfw 35(t). 7th Panzer was part of the 15th Panzer Corps.

Both divisions took part in the main German armoured thrust that cut through the French lines. 7th Panzer was on the right flank of the advance, 8th Panzer in the centre.

At the start of June 1940 the Panzer forces were reorganised ready for the attack on the new French lines. 7th Panzer formed part of the 15th Panzer Corps, in Army Group B, and successfully broke through the French lines. 8th Panzer remained part of the 16th Panzer Corps, and formed part of Panzer Group Guderian. On 10 June this group attacked from bridgeheads across the Aisne River and advanced south.

Forty three PzKpfw 38(t)s were lost in May 1940 and eleven in June 1940, although this figure does include those tanks that needed more than five days to repair. 7th Panzer received twenty replacement new PzKpfw 38(t)s on 2 June, and 8th Panzer received sixteen on the following day.

Greece

In April 1941 Germany invaded Greece, after the Italian invasion had been repulsed. 8th Panzer, with 125 PzKpfw 38(t)s, took part in the invasion. Although only seven PzKpfw 38(t)s were lost during the fighting, most of the rest suffered from wear and tear on the difficult mountain roads and needed urgent maintenance before they could be used again.

The Eastern Front

By 1941 the relative status of the PzKpfw 38(t) was changing. Later versions were better armoured, but the 3.7cm gun remained constant. In contrast the Panzer III and Panzer IV were gaining more powerful guns, and so were pulling ahead of the PzKpfw 38(t) in usefulness. The unexpected appearance of the Soviet T-34 made the PzKpfw 38(t) obsolete as a gun tank, as its armour couldn't stand up to the T-34s gun and its 3.7cm gun couldn't damage the T-34 at reasonable distances.

In June 1941 8th Panzer was part of Panzer Group 4, itself part of Army Group North, which had the task of capturing Leningrad. The division had three Panzer-Abteilungen equipped with the PzKpfw 38(t), for a total of 118 tanks and seven command tanks. The same group also contained the 6th Panzer Division, with its PzKpfw 35(t)s.

Panzer Group 3, part of Army Group Centre, contained four panzer divisions, each with three Panzer-Abteilungen equipped with the PzKpfw 38(t). Their distant objective was Moscow. At the start of Operation Barbarossa on 22 June 1941 7th Panzer had 167 normal PzKpfw 38(t)s, 12th Panzer had 109, 19th Panzer had 110 and 20th Panzer had 121.

On 1 June 1941 there were 746 PzKpfw 38(t)s on the German inventory. Thirty three were lost in June, but at this stage production was still strong, and on 1 July there were 755 on the inventory, the highest number ever achieved.

July also saw the start of a period of heavy losses. 182 tanks were reported lost during July. Eighty new tanks were completed and seventy four were rebuilt, for a total of 154 replacements (of which around 80 had reached the inventory by the start of August). After that the repair efforts drop away remarkably, production began to tail off (stopping in June 1942). The number on the inventory declined from its peak in July 1941 to a low of 373 at the start of 1942. The numbers then rose again as more of the available tanks were committed, and peaked for a second time at 513 at the start of May 1942. After that the decline was slow but steady.

In early September the Panzer divisions produced damage reports. 8th Panzer had 78 of its original 118 Pz.38(t)s operational and another 20 that could be repaired. The picture was worse in 7th Panzer. Here only 62 Pz.38(t)s were operational, 59 had been totally lost and 67 were repairable. 12th Panzer had 42 operational, having started with 109. 19th Panzer had 57 operational having started with 110 and 20th Panzer had 57 operational having started with 110.  These were high rates of loss, but the Panzer III equipped divisions had done worst, with many down to a third of their original strength.

By the start of October the panzer divisions had been redistributed. 8th Panzer was still part of Army Group North, but now as part of 39th Panzer Corps. 7th Panzer was part of 56th Panzer Corps, Panzer Group 3, Army Group Centre. 12th Panzer was now serving alongside 8th Panzer in Army Group North. 19th Panzer was directly under Army Group Centre. 20th Panzer was part of 57th Panzer Corps, Panzer Group 4, Army Group Centre.

By 22 December the five Panzer Divisions equipped with the Pz 38(t) only had 84 operational tanks, although another 202 were reported to be repairable. Nearly 700 Pz 38(t)s had either been destroyed or damaged too badly for local repair.

The Pz 38(t) was still being produced, and so fresh units could be formed around it. The 22nd Panzer Division was sent to the Eastern Front in February 1942 and was equipped with 77 Pz.38(t)s, 45 Panzer IIs and 20 Panzer IVs, having earlier been equipped with captured French tanks.

At the start of the summer offensive of 1942 the Pz.38(t) was is use with the 1st Panzer Division (10), 2nd Panzer Division (33), 8th Panzer Division (65), 19th Panzer (35), 20th Panzer (39), 22 Panzer (114) and Brigade 22 (26). 8th Panzer was with Army Group North, 1st, 2nd, 19th and 20th were with Army Group Centre. Only 22nd Panzer was with Army Group South, where it formed part of the 3rd Panzer Corps, which formed part of the right wing of the German advance, eventually reaching Maikop.

By mid-November 1942 the German advance had come to an end and the Soviets were about to launch the counterattacks that doomed the German 6th Army at Stalingrad. In Mid-November the remaining Pz.38(t)s were split between Army Groups B, Centre and North. Army Group North had 14 in the 8th Panzer Division. 22nd Panzer in Army Group B had 5 of its 114 tanks remaining and 27th Panzer had 22. Army Group Centre had the most tanks, with 37 in 19th Panzer, 7 in 1st Panzer and 22 in 20th Panzer.

By the summer of 1943 only a handful of Pz.38(t)s remained in service - on 1 July 8th Panzer had 3 on its order of battle. The Pz.38(t) was no longer an effective gun tank and the focus of production had already moved onto the three versions of the Marder.

The number of vehicles on the inventory remained static at around 200-250 until the autumn of 1944 when reporting stopped, but March 1943 was the last month in which any significant numbers were lost and none at all were lost after December 1943, reflecting their withdrawal from front line service. At the same time those tanks that were sent back for repairs were often used as the basis of conversions or became ammunition carriers.

Variants

Panzerkampfwagen 38(t) ausf A
I Serie TNHPS
LT Vz 38

The Pz.38(t) ausf A was the designation given to the existing Czech tanks when they were taken over by the German army and to the remaining tanks from the original order for 150. All 150 were completed by November 1939. They gained the fourth crewman, modified storage arrangements, new radios and better optics but were otherwise identical to the Czech LT-38 design.

Panzerkampfwagen 38(t) ausf B
II Serie TNHPS

In most cases the changes made to the later versions of the Pz.38(t) were fairly minor. The Pz.38(t) ausf B was produced from January-May 1940. A total of 110 were built. They had Notek lights added (shielded lights designed to help with night driving while being difficult to spot from the air). Smoke projectors were mounted on the rear plate.

Panzerkampfwagen 38(t) ausf C
III Serie TNHPS

The Pz.38(t) ausf C was produced from May to August 1940 and again 110 were built. This time the changes included a splash guard around the turret ring (to protect against bits of shrapnel getting between the turret and the main body of the tank), a German radio aerial to replace the Czech original and a new higher position for the exhaust muffler.

Panzerkampfwagen 38(t) ausf D
IV Serie TNHPS

The Pz.38(t) ausf D was produced from September to November 1940 and 105 were built. This version saw the introduction of the straight front plate, which simplified production and removed some weak spots. The ausf D used the original vision ports but these would be replaced on the ausf E.

Panzerkampfwagen 38(t) ausf E
V Serie TNHPS

The Pz.38(t) ausf E saw the first major change to the design, with 25mm of extra armour added to the front plate and turret front and 15mm to the side armour. These extra plates were added on top of the existing armour. New vision ports were needed on the front plate and there was no space for the splash ring on the turret machine gun.  A total of 275 were built beween November 1940 and May 1941.

Panzerkampfwagen 38(t) ausf F
VI Serie TNHPS

The Pz.38(t) ausf F was similar to the ausf E. 250 were produced between May and October 1941.

Panzerkampfwagen 38(t) ausf G
VII Serie TNHPS

The ausf G was the last version of the Panzer 38(t) to be completed as a gun tank. It entered production in the middle of 1941 and around 321-324 were completed as gun tanks. The remaining chassis from an order for 500 were used on various other vehicles. Production of the gun tank ended in June 1942. The ausf G had a single 50mm sheet of frontal armour in place of the two 25mm layers used on earlier models.

Ausf H

The Ausf H chassis was only used on modified vehicles such as the Marder III anti-tank vehicle. It has a more powerful 150hp engine.

Ausf M

The Ausf M chassis was developed for the Grille infantry howitzer but was also used on the Panzerjager 38(t) fur 7.5cm PAK 40 ausf M SdKfz 138 (Marder III). It had a modified front with a single glacis plate sloped at 67 degrees and the engine was moved from the rear to the middle of the vehicle. The tacks had a single return roller and a simplified sprocket wheel.

Panzerkampfwagen 38(t) ausf S

The Pz.38(t) ausf S was the designation given to 90 tanks that had been ordered by Sweden in 1939. Work came to a halt in 1940 when BMM was ordered to focus on German orders. They were eventually built in 1941 at the same time as the Ausf F, and were then taken over by Germany.

TNH neuer Art/ PzKpfw 38(t) n.A

The TNH neuer Art (new model) was produced in 1942 as a design for a reconnaissance tank. It had a new engine and new turret and other minor differences from the standard Pz.38(t). Fifteen were built but it wasn't accepted for production.

Other Vehicles built on Pz.38(t) Chassis

Marder III

The Marder III was produced by mounting a powerful anti-tank gun in a thinly shielded mounting on top of the superstructure of the Pz.38(t). There were three main variants of the Marder III (each with a variety of different names). The first was produced in 1942 by mounting captured Soviet 7.62cm guns in a central position and was called the Panzerjager 38(t) fur 7.62cm PAK 36(r) (SdKfz 139). A total of 344 were built from new on incomplete Ausf G and Ausf H chassis and 19 were produced by converting existing tanks.

Next came two variants armed with the German 7.5cm PAK 40 anti tank gun. The first was similar the SdKfz 139, with a centrally mounted gun and was designated Pazerjager 38(t) fur 7.5cm PAK 40, ausf H (SdKfz 138). 242 were built from new and 116 to 175 converted from existing tanks, between late 1942 and 1943.

Finally came the Panzerjager 38(t) fur 7.5cm PAK 40, ausf M (SdKfz 138). This carried the same gun but had the engine moved to the centre and the gun deck to the rear. It had a lower silhouette than earlier versions and was produced in the largest numbers. Between 956 and 975 were built between the spring of 1943 and mid 1944. 

Jagdpanzer 38(t) Hetzer

The Marder III was followed by the far more successful Jagdpanzer 38(t) Hetzer. This was developed after Allied bombing damaged one of the factories where the StuG was produced. BMM's plant couldn’t cope with the 24 ton StuG, so a new version based on the Panzer 38(t) chassis was developed instead. This mounted a 75mm L/48 PaK 39 anti-tank gun in the front of a low hull with steeply sloped armour. The Hetzer was thus better armed than the Marder III and had a very low silhouette and better armour protection. The first few were produced in April 1944 and it was the main focus of the BMM factory from September 1944.

Flammpanzer 38(t) Hetzer

A small number of Hetzers were completed with a disguised flamethrower. They were used during Operation Northwind, the last German offensive on the Western Front, which began on 31 December 1944 and faded away in January.  

Flakpanzer 38(t) ausf M (SdKfz 140)

The Flakpanzer 38(t) was a stop-gap anti-aircraft vehicle produced during 1943. It had the central engine and rear fighting compartment of the Marder III ausf M but was armed with a single 20mm anti-aircraft cannon. A total of 162 were built and they served in the AA platoons of the armoured regiments until replaced by the Flakpanzer IV.

15cm sIG 33 (Sfl) auf PzKpfw 38(t) Grille (Bison) (SdKfz 138/1)

The Grille (Bison) was a self-propelled artillery gun that mounted the standard German 15cm sIG33 gun on the chassis of the Panzer 38(t). It came in two variants - 90 were produced using the ausf H chassis, with a centrally mounted gun and rear-mounted engine and 282 on the Ausf M chassis, with a central engine and better designed rear-mounted gun compartment. The Grille was designed to serve alongside the infantry and provide instant artillery support.

15cm sIG33 (Sfl) auf Jagdpanzer 38(t) Hetzer

The 15cm sIG33 (Sfl) auf Jagdpanzer 38(t) Hetzer was a self-propelled artillery gun that combined the fuselage of the Hetzer anti-tank vehicle and a standard 15cm sIG33 howitzer. Only thirty were produced.

Munitionsfahrzeug 38(t)

The Munitionsfahrzeug 38(t) was an ammunition carried produced by removing the gun from a standard Grille to increase storage space. 102 were built from new early in 1944 and were used to support the Grille formations.

Aufklarungspanzer 38(t)

The Aufklarungspanzer 38(t) was a reconnaissance vehicle produced in 1944 by modifying standard Pz.38(t) tanks. Seventy were produced, all with a modified superstructure. 50 were given the 2cm gun turret used on the SdKfz 234/1 armoured car, two had a 7.5cm turret and 18 had no turrets.

Panzer 38(d)

The Panzer 38(d) was an enlarged version of the late-war Panzer 38(t) chassis but powered by a 210-220hp TATRA engine. It was the basis of several planned vehicles, but none ever entered production.

Production
Ausf A: 150
Ausf B: 110
Ausf C: 110
Ausf D: 105
Ausf E and F: 525
Ausf E: 275
Ausf F: 250
Ausf G: 324 as tank
Ausf S: 90
Total as tank: 1939

Panzerjager 38(t) fur 7.62cm PAK 38(t) SdKfz 139: 344 as new, 19 conversions
Panzerjager 38(t) fur 7.5cm PAK 38(t) ausf H SdKfz 138: 358-417
Panzerjager 38(t) fur 7.5cm PAK 38(t) ausf M SdKfz 138: 975
Jagdpanzer 38(t) Hetzer: 2,584
Flakpanzer 38(t) ausf M: 162
Grille ausf H: 90
Grille ausf M: 282
Munitionsfahrzeug 38(t): 102
Total as other vehicles: 4,956

Stats (Tank Variants)
Engine: TNHPS
Power: 125hp
Hull Length (Ausf A): 4.6m/ 15.09ft
Hull Length (Asuf B onwards): 4.61m/ 15.12ft
Hull Width (Ausf A): 2.12m/ 6.96ft
Hull Width (Asuf B onwards):  2.14m/ 7.02ft
Height (Ausf A): 2.4m/ 7.87ft
Crew (all): 4
Weight (Ausf A): 9.4 tons
Weight (Ausf B, C, D): 9.5 tons
Weight (Ausf E, F, S): 9.85 tons
Engine: Praga EPA
Max Speed (all): 42 km/hr/ 26.1mph
Max Range (all): 250km/ 155 miles
Armament (all): One 3.7cm KwK38(t) L/48.7, two 7.92mm MG37(t) machine guns

Armour (Ausf A to D)



Armour

Front

Side

Turret

25mm

15mm

Superstructure

25mm

15mm

Hull

25mm

15mm

Gun mantlet

25mm

 

Armour (Ausf E onwards)



Armour

Front

Side

Turret

50mm

30mm

Superstructure

50mm

30mm

Hull

50mm

30mm

Gun mantlet

50mm

 

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (24 July 2013), Panzerkampfwagen 38(t) , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_panzerkampfwagen_38t.html

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