The development of the panzer III started in the early thirties. This type became the main German medium tank design during the victorious Blitzkrieg years and was destined to equip the bulk of the German armored forces. The panzer III’s main visionary was Heinz Guderian, who proposed the ideal tank design for fighting other tanks and for achieving a breakthrough. Even tough the panzer III was intended to be the main tank, the panzer IV later supplanted it in that role, because the former couldn’t mount a gun larger than a low velocity 75mm cannon.
Four companies in Germany (Daimler-Benz, Krupp, MAN, and Rheinmetall) were selected to produce a prototype of the specified tank, which was ready in 1936. The Daimler-Benz model was chosen and the production of the first units took place in 1937.
The prototype had a 3-seat turret and an intercom system. Both proved very innovative features. A Radio was also part of the equipment from the start, this helped to dramatically improve the communication with other tanks. This characteristic alone was perfectly suited for Blitzkrieg combined-arms tactics and it allowed tactical superiority.
At the outset of the invasion of Russia in June of 1941, the panzer III’s was the most numerous tank present in the German Panzer divisions (972 machines out of 3398 total tanks). The rest of the German tank park consisted in the panzer IV and the less formidable panzers I, II, 35(t) and 38(t).
707 of these panzer III’s were equipped with the low velocity (short barrel) KwK38 L/42 50mm gun and 265 with the KwK36 L/45 37mm gun. Both guns proved powerful enough to destroy the Soviet BT-7 and T-26 tanks which were the bulk of the Soviet armored force, however when the Germans encountered the KV-1 and T-34 they realized that they were ineffective against their armor. This lead to upgrading to the high velocity (long barrel) KwK38 L/60 50mm gun. By September of 1941, two new panzer divisions sent to battle were equipped with this new gun.
|Dimensions (size).||5.41m x 2.95m x 2.44 m (213 in x 116 in x 96 in)|
1 × 37 mm KwK36/L45 Ausf. A - G variants
1 × 50 mm KwK38/L42 Ausf. E - J variants
1 × 50 mm KwK39/L60 Ausf. H - M variants
2 x 7.92mm MG34
|Total weight||21.8 tons (Ausf H)|
|Engine||Maybach V12 gasoline HL 120 TRM 265 hp|
|Speed (on /off road)||40/20 km/h (25/12 mph)|
|Max Range||165 km road (100 miles) / 105 km cross-country (65 miles)|
30mm turret and hull all-around except:
Gun mantlet 37mm / Front upper & lower hull 30+30mm
|Total production||5774 units.|