In the meantime, while the Tiger and the Panther were being developed, the existing German tanks were belatedly armed with more powerful guns. In particular, Pz.Kpfw.IV was armed in 1942 with more powerful 75mm guns, first 43 and then 48 calibres long, instead of the short barrelled gun of 24 calibres, which had been used in German tanks since the Grosstraktoren of 1929. In contrast, the Soviet Army armed its tanks with progressively longer barrelled and, therefore, higher velocity 76.2mm guns. Thus the early Russian tanks, including some of the BT, were armed with guns only 16.5 calibres long but the final versions of the BT and T-28 medium tank were armed with guns 26 calibres long while the original versions of the T-34 and KV had guns of 41.2 calibres. However, when the Pz.Kpfw.IV was finally rearmed with the 75mm L/48 gun the latter proved to have an armour piercing capability considerably greater than that of the Russian 76.2mm guns of 41.2 calibres and as good as that of the 85mm gun with which the T-34 was eventually armed.
The armament of the most numerous German tank during 1941 and 1942, the Pz.Kpfw.III, was also improved. The Pz.Kpfw.III was conceived as a light tank to be used alongside the medium Pz.Kpfw.IV (1.76). However, it had the same general layout, five-man crew and almost the same weight as the Pz-Kpfw.IV, which was extravagant in relation to its original armament of a 37mm gun. After the 1940 campaign in France it was rearmed with a 50mm gun 42 calibres long, which at short range could penetrate more armour than the short barrelled 75mm gun of the contemporary Pz.Kpfw.IV. However, its performance proved inadequate against the frontal armour of the Russian T-34. In consequence it was rearmed again, being fitted in 1942 with a 50mm gun 60 calibres long, the armour piercing performance of which was at least comparable to that of the Soviet 76.2mm tank guns of 41.2 calibres. In the end it was armed with the same 24 calibre 75mm gun as the original Pz.Kpfw.IV. This should have been done from the start and might have led to the merger of the two types into a single battle tank that could have been produced more efficiently and employed more effectively.
As it was Pz.Kpfw.III was best used when its chassis became the basis of the turretless Sturmgeschütz. The latter was conceived as an assault gun for infantry support but in 1942 it was rearmed with the same long-barrelled 75 mm gun as the Pz.Kpfw.IV. This turned it not only into a tank destroyer but also into a very effective turretless tank and it was used as such by the Panzer divisions when there was a shortage of turreted tanks. Ultimately the number of Sturmgeschütz built on the Pz.Kpfw.III chassis amounted to 9409, which was more than the total production of any German tank.
Sturmgeschütz mit 8.8cm PaK43/2 (Sd Kfz 184)
History: During the development of the Tiger(P) and Tiger(H), Hitler had agitated for a turret design which would be large enough to mount the 8.8cm KwK L/71. This had not materialized and on 22 September 1942 it was decided that a StuG with 200mm frontal armour and the long 8.8cm gun should be immediately designed, with the Tiger( P) as the basis, and part of the Tiger( P) production diverted for the vehicle. Alkett was to design and produce the Ferdinand, with Nibelungenwerke supplying the completed chassis. Despite the shortage of suspension parts and lack of test runs, on 6 February 1943 Hitler ordered that 90 Ferdinands were to be supplied for the front as quickly as possible by all available means. This resulted in the order for Nibelungenwerke to complete the Sturmgeschutz Ferdinand instead of Alkett. All 90 were completed by the end of May 1943, in time for use in the summer offensive at Kursk.
Specific features: The hull of the Ferdinand was that of the Tiger(P), but with 100mm plates bolted to the front, and an addition to the rear to support the superstructure and vent cooling air for the electric motors. The superstructure housed the long 8.8cm gun in a limited traverse mount. No secondary armament was mounted until late 1943, when those returned from the front were modified to carry a hull machine-gun. The superstructure was also changed at this time to provide the commander with a cupola. Forty-eight Ferdinands were so modified.
Combat service: Ferdinands were issued to Panzerjagerabteilungen 653 and 654 in April and May 1943. These units fought at Kursk during the limited offensive and helped plug holes in the line for the rest of the summer and autumn. The units were pulled out late in 1943 to overhaul the vehicles, after which, the 653rd Panzerjagerabteilung was re-equipped and a separate company was attached to the 614th Panzerjagerabteilung.
Jagdtiger (Sd Kfz 186)
History: Early in 1943, orders were given to design a heavy, self-propelled anti-tank gun, by mounting the 12.8cm gun on a Tiger II chassis. A wooden model of the enormous vehicle was displayed on 20 October 1943, and the finished prototype, in April 1944. Two Jagdtiger (Nos. 305001 and 305004) were built with the Porsche-designed longitudinal torsion-bar suspension. This proved unsatisfactory and delayed production until the Jagdtiger had been redesigned with a torsion-bar suspension. The initial series was for 150, but an order issued in October 1944 stipulated that when these had been completed, production capacity was to be used for building the Panther. However, this was reversed in January 1945, with an order to continue the assembly of Jagdtiger as fast as possible. A Jagdtiger mounting the 8.8cm L/71 was designated Sd Kfz 185, but this never went into production.
Specific features: The Jagdtiger had the same suspension as the Tiger II, but its hull was lengthened. The superstructure had a very box-like appearance, with the sides being formed by the continuation of the upper hull sides. The hull machine-gun mount was retained in the hull front, as secondary armament to the 12.8cm PaK44, mounted in the superstructure front.
Combat service: The Jagdtiger was issued to only two combat units, Panzerjagerabteilung 653 and schwere Panzerabteilung 512. The 653rd was employed on the Western Front during the Ardennes offensive, and later with the 512th in the defence of Germany proper, in such actions as that of the Remagen Bridgehead on 10 March 1945.