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Production Modifications

Panzerkampfwagen Panzer III Sd.Kfz. 141

For most German tanks during World War II, modifications to the initial design were frequently introduced during production runs to improve overall performance, simpify manufaturing, or in response to material shortages. The aim of this page is to provide useful information to tank modellers and enthusiasts, on key official changes that affected its external appearance. Illustrations wll be provided where available. It is not intended to be exhaustive and does not include the numerous changes to the interior and internal components as well as unofficial modifications made by crews in the field. The modifications are listed roughly in the order in which they occurred headed by the component most affected. Approximate dates are given where they are known.

The Panzer III was Germany's most important tank during the early war years. While the Panzer I and Panzer II were designed as training and stop-gap machines, the Panzer III was the first major combat tank project undertaken by Nazi Germany and it went on to become the backbone of the German armed forces. It was conceived as one of two basic types of main battle tanks by General Guderian. The first to carry a high velocity gun for anti-tank work - the Panzer III, backed up by a support tank carrying a larger-calibre gun capable of firing a destructive high explosive shell. The second tank went on to become the Panzer IV.

The Panzer III was eventually phased out from front line service in late 1943 after being outclassed by the latest Soviet armour but small numbers continues in service until the end of the war.

Panzer III Ausf A (1936)
The first 10 pre-production vehicles, later to be designated the Panzer III Model A, were completed by Daimler-Benz in 1936. Weighing 15 tonnes, it is operated by a crew of 5 protected by 15mm of armour all round. It can manage 32kph or 20mph with an effective range of 165km or 103 miles. For main armament, the Ordanance Department decided that for the sake of standardisation, the infantry 3.7cm KwK L/45 anti-tank gun with an internal mantlet will be fitted instead of the higher calibre 50mm gun wanted by the Mechanised Troops Inspectorate. However, it was also decided at the same time that the turret ring would be made large enough for up-gunning should it become necessary. The Model A also had two 7.92mm MG3 coaxial machineguns on the turret and a third on the hull front plate.
A feature of the Panzer III was the prominent cupola at he rear of the turret which gave the commander very good all-round view.
These were the first in a series of development vehicles, from Model A to Model D, to test various aspects of the design and suspension arrangements. The Model A suspension consisted of 5 independently sprung medium sized bogie wheels with 2 return rollers.

Panzer III Ausf B (1937)
The next 15 vehicles, designated the Panzer III Model B, were completed in 1937. These vehicles were virtually identical to the Model A except the suspension arrangements consisted of 8 smaller bogie wheels grouped in pairs suspended on two semi-elliptical springs with three return rollers instead of two. The Model B carried 121 rounds instead of 150 rounds to offset the extra weight of the new suspension.

Panzer III Ausf C (1936 - 1937)
15 vehicles, designated the Panzer III Model C, were also completed between 1936 and 1937. These vehicles were identical to the Model B with the same wheel arrangements but they were suspended on three semi-elliptical springs instead of two on the Model B. The weight increased from 15 to 16 tonnes due to the new heavier suspension and effective range dropped to 105km (65 miles).

Panzer III Ausf D (1936 - 1937)
The fourth experimental variant, designated the Panzer III Model D, had thicker armour up to 30mm as well as modified suspension and that increased the weight to 19.3 tonnes. The same amount of fuel were carried but in four instead of two fuel tanks. A total of 40 Model Ds were produced between January and June 1938.

Panzer III Ausf E (1938 - 1939)
The Model E became the production version and was designated Sd.Kfz. 141. 96 in total were produced by Daimler-Benz between December 1938 and October 1939. They incorporate major modifications including a more powerful 320bhp Maybach HL 120 TR engine and a completely new transmission giving a top speed of 25mph. This variant featured the definitive six bogie road wheels independently suspended from transverse torsion bars with three return rollers. One of the two coaxial machineguns on the turret was deleted.

The majority of the 98 Panzer III tanks deployed during the Polish Campaign were model E vehicles. Some of the earlier experimental machines from Model A to Model D were also deployed but withdrew before the invasion of France. Model E vehicles were in active service in the West in 1940, Russia in 1941 to 1942 and North Africa up to late 1942.

Panzer III Ausf F (1939 - 1940)
The Panzer III Model F, was the first general production model, which entered service from late 1939. 435 Model F vehicles were delivered during sustained production between September 1939 and July 1940. The high standard of mechanical reliability was a result of experimentation and development through the previous models.
Combat experience from Poland and France had convinced the Germans that a more powerful main gun than the existing 3.7cm gun was needed. But rather than delay production of the Model F, it was decided that it will proceed with the 3.7cm until a new gun could be developed.

Panzer III Ausf G (1940 - 1941)
The Model G was produced from April 1940 onward incorporating a new more powerful 5cm KwK L/42 low velocity gun with an external mantlet. This new gun was retro-fitted to many earlier variants during the winter of 1940-41. The Model G also had a slightly modified cupola and driver's visor. A total of 450 Model G were produced.

Admiral 1/72 Panzer III Ausf H
Panzer III Ausf H (1940 - 1941)
Between October 1940 and April 1941, a total of 310 of a new variant, the Model H, was produced with an additional 30mm of bolted-on frontal armour on the hull. It had a new turret and improved cupola design with double the armour thickness and a turret basket at the rear. This turret basket was retrofitted to earlier models. The heavier armour increased the weight of the Model H to 21.6 tonnes which necessitated modification to the suspension and rollers and the introduction of wider tracks (from 360mm to 400mm) with new drive sprockets (7 rings to 6 spokes) and idler wheels to compensate. Older models were modified to the new standards.

Panzer III Ausf J Special (1940 - 1942)
The Model J had more effective 50mm integrated frontal armour rather than the bolted-on 30mm armour on the Model H. The driver's visor was again revised and a new ball-mounting for the hull MG adopted. Earlier Model J vehicles had the same 5cm KwK L/42 gun as previous models but this was rendered obsolete by the T-34 on the Russian Front. Later Model J vehicles had the much more formidable long-barrel 5cm KwK 39 L/60 high velocity gun. Even though this vehicle carried fewer rounds - 84 instead of 99 - to compensate for the heavier gun, the weight of the L/60 armed Model J still rose to 22.3 tonnes. This version was re-designated Sd.Kfz. 141/1 and was also known as the 'Special'. It was the most widely produced of all variants with 2516 delivered between March 1940 and July 1942. Just over a thousand had the longer L/60 gun.
The Model J had a new storage bin behind the turret and also had triple smoke dischargers on the forward part of the turret.

Admiral 1/72 anzer III Ausf L
Panzer III Ausf L (1942)
The next variant, the Model L, had a modified suspension to compensate for the fact that the new long 5cm L/60 h=gun had made the Model J nose heavy. It also had enhanced levels of protection through the use of more effective spaced armour (20mm) on the hull front plate and mantlet. Only 78 rounds of ammo is carried by the Model L to offset the extra weight. 703 Model L vehicles were produced between June and December 1942. The Heng Long Panzer III is of early Model L specification. Later Model L Panzer IIIs have the hull side escape hatches deleted.

Panzer III Ausf M (1942 - 1943)
The Model M incorporated minor modifications to simplify construction and thereby increase the rate of production. The hull side escape hatches and vision ports were deleted. This model was also fitted with Schurzen or armour side skirting to protect the wheels and tracks from hollow-charge anti-tank weapons. The engine access hatches on the engine deck was redesigned and a new exhaust system introduced to allow for wading up to 5 feet. 292 Model M were produced between October 1942 and February 1943.

Panzer III Ausf N (1942 - 1943)
The Model N was the final variant of the Panzer III and was fitted with a short-barrelled 7.5cm L/24 main gun designed to provide heavy close fire support to infantry. This variant was also popularly known as the Sturmpanzer III assault tank. 666 Model N were produced between Late 1942 and August 1943.

A total of 5500 Panzer III vehicles of all variants was produced. Some were converted into armoured command vehicles and some to flame thrower tanks.

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