Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Panzer Camouflage and Panzer IV Variants

Between 1939 and 1941 Panzer camouflage was quite standardized throughout with virtually all equipment painted in dark grey. Even by the time the Germans invaded the Soviet Union the vehicles were still painted in an overall dark grey camouflage scheme, which blended well with the local terrain. However, with the onset of winter and the first snow showers at the end of October 1941, vehicles were not camouflaged for winter warfare. With the prospect of fighting in Russia in the snow the Heer issued washable white winter camouflage paint in November 1941. The paint was specially designed to be thinned with water and applied to all vehicles and equipment where snow was on the ground. The white wash paint could easily be washed off by the crews in the spring, exposing the dark grey base colour. Unfortunately for the crews the supply came too late and the distribution to the front lines was delayed by weeks. Consequently, the crews had to adapt and find various substitutes to camouflage their vehicles. This included hastily applying a rough coat of lime white wash, whilst other crews used lumps of chalk, white cloth strips and sheets, and even hand-packed snow in an attempt to conceal conspicuous dark grey parts. Other vehicles, however, roamed the white arctic wilderness with no camouflage at all.

Following the harsh winter of 1941, the spring of 1942 saw the return of the dark grey base colour on all vehicles. It was during this period that a number of vehicles saw the return of pre-war dark brown and dark green camouflage schemes. Crews had learnt from the previous year the lessons of camouflage. Many crews began adding to their camouflage schemes by applying natural substitutes to the surface of their vehicles. These included the wide spread use of foliage and bundles of grass and hay. This was a particularly effective method used to break up the distinctive shapes and allow them to blend into the local terrain. Mud too was used as an effective form of camouflage but was never universally adopted by the crews.

For the first time in southern Russia, in the Crimea and the Caucasus, where the summer weather was similar to that in North Africa, many vehicles were given an application of tropical camouflage, with the widespread use of sand colour schemes, almost identical to those used in the Afrika-Korps. Because the terrain was very similar to that of a desert the vehicles were completed in the tropical colours of yellow brown RAL 8000, grey green RAL 7008 or just red-brown RAL 8017.

From 18 February 1943, olive green was being used on vehicles, weapons, and large pieces of equipment. A Red brown colour RAL 8012 had also been introduced at the same time. These two colours, along with the new colour base of dark yellow RAL 7028 were issued to crews in the form a highly concentrated paste. The paste came in 2kg and 20kg cans, and units were ordered to apply these colours in combinations and patterns over the entire surface of the vehicles. The paste was specially adapted so that it could be thinned with water or even fuel, and could be applied by spray, brush, or mop.

The dark yellow paste was issued primarily to cover unwanted colours or areas of the camouflage schemes, especially during changes in seasons. These new variations of colours gave the crews the widest possible choice of schemes so as to blend in as much as possible with the local terrain. The pastes were also used to colour all canvas tops and tarpaulins on the vehicles.

The new three-colour paint scheme was designed to improve combat vehicle camouflage at the front and gave each unit maximum flexibility in applying camouflage as dictated by the surrounding conditions. However, within months there were frequent problems with supply. Support vehicles carrying the new paste had to travel so far to various scattered units, usually far beyond railheads, that some Panzer units were unable to apply these new camouflage schemes for some time. Another problem was due to the fact that many Panzer units were heavily embroiled in bitter fighting and had neither the vehicles nor manpower to spare to withdraw for a repaint. Even rear area ordnance workshops were returning vehicles to action at such speed that they only found the time to replace parts, and then send them back to the front without a repaint. A great many vehicles never received any paste colours at all, and those that fought on remained in the basic, factory-applied, dark yellow, sometimes with crews adapting and enhancing the scheme with the application of foliage and mud.

However, of all the failings associated with the introduction of these new colours, the greatest of all was actually the paints themselves. These proved to be unstable when mixed with water, and even the lightest downpour could cause the colours to run or wash off the vehicles. Fuel, which was used to give the paste a more durable finish, was at such a premium during the later stages of the war, that units were compelled to use water, despite its unsuitability, a mix of paste and waste oil, or a mixture of paste and conventional paints in order to maximize coverage and enhance durability. All this caused immense variations in the appearance of the paint schemes and as a consequence unusual colours like brick red, chocolate brown and light green were seen on vehicles. In spite of these variations in colour and the fact that there was little standardization in the camouflage schemes, occasionally complete units did appear at the front properly painted and marked. But this was a rare occurrence, especially by 1944.

Throughout 1944, a further drain on German supplies and resources caused considerable disruption in the supply of all manner of materials. The paint for vehicles was just one of many deprivations inflicted on the already badly depleted Panzer units. During the last months of 1944, the paint supply situation became critical and lots of vehicles were seen in overall dark yellow or, later, in dark green, brown or whatever was available.

The use of foliage during the last years of the war was extensive. Most vehicles and a large range of weapons attached foliage to break up their distinctive shapes. The Germans were masters in the art of camouflaging their vehicles with branches from trees, grass and hay. In fact, some vehicles carried so much foliage that it was sometimes difficult to determine what type of vehicle they were or what camouflage scheme it had. In the last year of the war, foliage had become more important than paint schemes, especially on the western fronts. To the German soldier, successful concealment from aerial attack was the key to survival. As the remnants of the once vaunted Panzer divisions withdrew to the borders of the Reich the crews did not waste any time painting their vehicles. The widespread use of foliage helped compensate for this.

PzKpfw IV (SdKfz 161) in Normandy

Numerically, the PzKpfw IV was the most important German tank of the war and of the fighting in Normandy, where the latest Ausf Hand Ausf J were the most common. Among the units in Normandy there were two exceptions to the tank's usual allocation to the II. Abteilung of a panzer regiment: in Panzer Regiment 33, where I. Abteilung was equipped with the PzKpfw IV, and in Panzer Regiment 22, where both I. and II. Abteilung were equipped with it.

On paper, seven of the eleven Abteilung were at normal strength, with 22 tanks per Kompanie; but no more than six Abteilung went into action with a full complement of between 17 and 22 tanks per Kompanie.

From 1934 the Armaments Ministry had been thinking of a medium tank with a 7. 5cm gun, and the first design, perfected by Krupp, appeared in 1936 under the codename 'I/BW.' This was the PzKpfw IV Ausf A, which was followed by Ausf B, C and D in small numbers up till 1939.

It was not until after the Polish campaign, at the end of 1939, that the PzKpfw IV made its real debut - with the introduction of the Ausf E. Almost 300 PzKpfw IVs took part in the blitzkrieg of 1940 and 280 came off the assembly lines that year, rising to 480 in 1941. At this time, it was the Germans' heaviest operational tank but, as yet, it had a 7. 5cm gun with a 24-calibre barrel.

The Ausf F of 1941 was produced in collaboration between Krupp and Rheinmetall-Borsig, and possessed a modified suspension and wider tracks. The F2 which followed was, at last, armed with a 43-calibre 7. 5cm gun which, in 1942, when it was given a muzzle brake, became the Ausf G (SdKfz 161/1). The armour-plate had been regularly thickened, and an in- novation was the way in which warm water in the cooling system was transferred from one radiator to another to help in starting the engine.

In June 1942 - when it began to be fitted with a 48-calibre gun and the frontal armour of its hull had been supplemented to 80mm thickness - the PzKpfw IV had almost reached its definitive form.

The exhaust identifies this model as a late-type Ausf J. The main difference between the Ausf H and J was that the former had a small auxiliary engine at the rear serving as a generator for the electric turret traverse. (The turret was manually driven on the Ausf J.) The gun is a 7.5cm KwK40 L/48 - 48 standing for the length which was 48 times the calibre, Le. 48 x 75mm.

Ausf H (SdKfz 161/2)
1943 was a turning point for the PzKpfw IV, when the backbone of the panzer units, the PzKpfw III, ceased production and it was a question of whether the PzKpfw IV should stop as well. The Tiger was beginning to assert itself and deliveries had started of the Panther.

The proposal to stop producing the PzKpfw IV in favour of the new and larger tanks encountered vehement opposition from several generals, among them the Inspector General of Armoured Troops, Guderian, who maintained that only the PzKpfw IV could be turned out in large numbers. The Tiger was at that time being produced at the rate of just twenty-five a month and the Panther was as yet untested in battle.

The outcome was an order for all-out production of the PzKpfw IV. There were further threats to the tank's existence towards the end of the year when Organisation Todt proposed using the turret for fortification points and another suggestion was that a halt should be called to increase the manufacture of assault guns, but nothing came of this and more than 3,000 were completed by the factories during the year - almost as many as were to be built from then till the end of the war.

Whilst the arguments were being pursued, in March 1943 the Ausf H made its appearance. Mechanically, it differed from previous models by the replacement of the ZF SSG 76 gearbox with the ZF SSG 77 which had earlier been fitted in the PzKpfw III. Externally, the main difference between the Ausf H and the G was the presence of Sch├╝rzen - or skirts - on the hull sides, late models of the Ausf G having already been given turret skirts. This soft steel, 5mm-thick armour-plate was originally intended to break up Soviet anti-tank rifle projectiles prematurely on the outside of the tank itself - between the skirt and the tank - cancelling out the shell's penetrating power. At first the hull plates were fixed soundly onto lengthwise rails; then this was abandoned for slotting them on brackets welded to the rails. This way the plates came away more easily on impact and with less chance of getting jammed in the tracks and damaging the running wheels.

Observation slits for the loader and gunner at the side of the turret were dispensed with as redundant; the aerial was now fixed on the left at the rear of the hull; a new driving sprocket and idler wheel with 'open' spokes were introduced; 30mm frontal armour-plate was first bolted on but then soon welded on; the driver's and radio-operator's side observation ports soon disappeared in their turn, and the cupola hatch reverted to a single section.

Ausf J (SdKfz 161/2)
The last development of the PzKpfw IV - the Ausf J - came out a year later in March 1944. To increase its operational range, the electric turret travers- ing mechanism was removed and the space saved used for an extra fuel tank. Thereafter the turret was operated by a two-speed handwheel. The external 2- stroke engine that worked the electric generator was also removed - its absence being the clue in identifying the Ausf J.

Possibly some two-thirds of the PzKpfw IV battalions in Normandy were equipped with the Ausf H and the remainder with the Ausf J. There were also around half a dozen ancient Ausf Bs or Cs in II. Abteilung of Panzer Regiment 22 which were most likely used for training or as OP tanks but were nonetheless sent into action. Almost certainly, some units must still have possessed a few Ausf Gs; and some Ausf Hand Ausf J turrets housed the Ausf G 43-calibre gun which was 38cm shorter than the 48-calibre. The PzKpfw IV was mechanically well tried and very reliable; it was available in large numbers and had a good operational range - particularly the Ausf J. By this stage of the war, however, its armour was inadequate and its speed was slow in relation to its weight.