It serve in all major theatres where the German Army engaged until the Battle of Kursk in 1943 when the Panzer IV had became the main battle tank of the army until the end of the war. It's most important variant, the StuG III assault gun, however also served until the end of the war.
The Panzer III Ausf. A was the first model and it had a crew of 5. It also could move at speeds of around 40.2 km/h and had a liquid cooled, gasoline powered, Maybach HL 120 TRM engine. The Ausf. A had a 37 mm Kwk L/45 for the main gun and three machine guns, one mounted in the hull and two mounted co-axially. The Ausf. A weighed around 24,000 kg and it was about 5.7 meters long. The Panzer III's armor thickness varied from 1 cm to 1.5 cm, and it had a 5 speed forward, 1 speed reverse transmission. The Panzer III also had a coil springs suspension system and a 249.8 liter fuel capacity.
The Ausf. A only went through a fifteen model production run and thus only had limited combat experience in Poland. In general though, the Panzer III was shown to be effective in combat in assisting infantry, though would go on to have problems with combating enemy tanks. This was especially true with early models still equipped with the short barreled 37 mm gun.
The first variant of the Panzer III series was the Ausf. B model with improved transmission to correct previous problems which had severely handicapped the Ausf. A. Likewise, the Ausf. C example had also introduced an improved transmission. It was not until the Ausf. D that the Panzer III series had gotten an upgrade to its armor with a revised commander cupola as well. To do away with the suspension problems altogether, the Ausf. E had replaced the old suspension system and had been equipped with a torsion bar suspension instead. This new form was far more reliable and proven to be effective in the field. Furthermore, the engine had been more powerful for increase performance. The last main change was that ability to mount a new 50 mm main gun.
Building up on the development of the Ausf. E, the Ausf. F was given new roadwheels, the 50 mm as armament, and new ammunition boxes. It should be kept in mind however that many Panzer IIIs were not given the 50 mm gun initially in production and were given it later. For example, the Ausf. G which came next had its second co-axial machine gun removed as well as a new commander cupola and increased protection for the driver in the form of a modified vision slot. The 50 mm gun was fitted after the first 50 examples had been equipped with the 37 mm. To operate better in the desert, the Ausf. G was given special air filters and other equipment to become the Ausf. G (TP) model. Because of the time at which the next variant, the Ausf. H had served, a clear emphasis on added protection and armament was seen. This example, being produced largely in 1941 also naturally had wider tracks and a more reliable transmission to go along with the Eastern Front Campaign. This was coupled with the 30 mm additional armor plates added along the tank.
The Ausf. J model of the series had once more given a serious upgrade in its armor, receiving as much as 20 mm extra armor plate to the front section of the hull. This made for at most, 70 mm worth of armor with the spaced plates. Its subvariant, the J1, meanwhile was simply a term applied to later model Ausf. Js which had finally been given the 50 mm long barreled L/60 cannon. The Ausf. L made the L/60 cannon standard as well as added a further 20 mm worth of armor plating to the turret. It, like the Ausf. G, had a (TP) model produced with improved air filters for desert conditions. Uniquely, some models of Ausf. L were fitted with long barrel PaK 38 (5 cm) anti-tank guns. The last two normal tank variants of the series were the Ausf. M and Ausf. N. While the Ausf. M had been made largely to simplify production, it had also been allowed to use Schürzen Armor. Meanwhile, the Ausf. N had been designed completely to be an infantry support vehicle. It was given the short barreled 75 mm L/24 gun so that it could effectively serve the Tiger I in infantry combat.
The other variants in the series were largely specialty variants such as the standard Panzerbefehlswagen III command tank, Panzerbeobachtungswagen III artillery spotting tank, and Flammpanzer III flamethrower tank. Notably, this model was based upon the Ausf. M chassis and was fueled by two tanks, carrying a total of around 1,000 liters worth of propellant. The operational using time was two to three second bursts of flame with the ability to use the flamethrower numerous times over and over. Some more curious variants include bridgelaying models and a submersible Panzer III known as the Tauchpanzer III. This model was developed for use in Operation Sea Lion and was supposed to be able to traverse the sea floor. While the operation was cancelled, they were later used in the Eastern Front crossing rivers. The very final variants were the various assault gun conversions, such as the StuG III.
The Panzer III was initially developed in 1936 along with many other early German tank designs to supplement their military for the coming war. Pioneering these developments was Heinz Guderian who notably requested a 50 mm main armament for the Panzer III from its conception, though his request was rejected due to the short stocks of the weapon. Initial combat experience was quite telling, the Panzer III was found to be inadequate of fighting against other tanks and armored vehicles and its transmission left something to be desired. However, the true success of the Panzer III early on was in its radio system, typically the FuG 5 in early models, the radio in each Panzer III allowed for truly coordinated attacks and gave German tankers an edge over their adversaries even when said enemies often fielded superior equipment.
Panzer IIIs were some of the most commonly fielded tanks on the battlefield in the early campaigns of 1941-1942 though with the rise of ever improving Allied tanks, a clear change was needed, thus the focus was shifted more to the Panzer IV. By 1943, it was already used for second line duty or infantry support. However, the Panzer III was still being used up to 1945. Though, by that time it was often preferred to scarp elder Panzer IIIs and convert them into more appreciated StuG III assault guns which were far more capable of dealing with enemy armor and more effective in general. In total, around 5,774 examples had been produced during the war not including derivatives such as the StuG III.
- ↑ http://www.militaryfactory.com/armor/detail.asp?armor_id=75
- ↑ http://www.wwiivehicles.com/germany/tanks-medium/pzkpfw-iii-ausf-g.asp
- ↑ http://www.tanks-encyclopedia.com/ww2/nazi_germany/Panzer_III.php