The following information is a detailed site on the weapons and equipment
of the Wehrmacht, the German Army [insert Rommelgunshooting.art]. The
upcoming sections will focus on the Wehrmacht's World War II airplanes,
tanks and specialized equipment, followed by discussion and review questions.
This section marks the rebuilding of Germany's aviation industry and
usage of tanks since the Versailles Treaty's prohibition on aircraft
production and tank utility for Germany.
Germany's most important fighter aircraft actually had the smallest
airframe but could amazingly carry the most powerful in-line aero engine
available along with useful armament. However, because of the Versailles
Treaty, the only engine available in 1934 was a Junkers Jumo with 210
horsepower. Its name is the Bayerische Flugzeugwerke 109, also known
as the Bf 109 or the commonly referred to ME-109 after its designer,
Willy Messerschmitt. "The Bf 109 was a small, angular, low-wing
monoplane with closely set main landing gear that retracted outward
into the wings" (http:/normandy.eb.com). A Rolls-Royce engine powered
the first prototype in October 1935 and the first Jumo-powered Bf 109B,
armed with 7.9-millimetre machine guns was used in 1937, in the Spanish
Civil War. Due to its use of interplane radio to control formations
in air-to-air combat, it was successful against the Soviet I-16 monoplanes
and I-15 biplane fighters.
The line Bf 109s became even more powerful when the fuel-injected
Daimler-Benz DB601 engines, in the 1,000-horsepower range, were produced
and added on. The Bf 109E was born and was composed of two wing-mounted
20-millimetre automatic cannons and two 7.9-millimetre machine guns
in the engine cowling with provisions for an additional 20-millitre
machine cannon to fire through the propeller hub. "The Bf 109E,
the principal German fighter from the invasion of Poland in 1939 through
the Battle of Britain (1940-41), had a top speed of 350 miles (570 kilometres)
per hour and a ceiling of 35,000 feet (10,500 metres)" It was the
ruler of low and medium altitudes but in altitudes above 15,000 feet
the British Spitfire outperformed it. In comparison to the Spitfire
and the Hurricane (Allied fighters), it could outclimb both and was
faster in a dive than both, except for the Spitfire at high altitudes.
Although the Hurricane was slower, it could outturn the Messerschmitt,
as well as the Spitfire, under control of a skilled pilot. Even though
the Bf 109 was very powerful it came with its share of defects. Its
range was severely limited by its small fuel capacity, and its closely
set landing gear was prone to ground looping and collapse on muddy fields.
Since improved Spitfires came out in 1941 and surpassed the DB601-powered
Bf 109s, new Bf 109Gs were developed and took their place. By the end
of 1944, 21,000 DB 605 engine powered "Gustavs"(Bf 109Gs)
were completed [Insert Bf.pic.art]. "The Bf 109G was produced in
greater numbers than any other model and served on all fronts. It was
armed with a pair of 12.7-millimetre machine guns in the engine cowling
and a 20-millimetre cannon firing through the propeller hub; and additional
pair of cannons or launching tubes for 210-millimetre rockets could
be mounted beneath the wings for shooting down American heavy bombers
such as the B-17 and the B-24" (http:/normandy.eb.com). Only in
dire emergencies could the pilots jettison the newly added jettisonable
external fuel tanks, which extended the plane's combat range and loiter
time (This limited their full use of all their available power-a disadvantage).
The Messerschmitt Bf 109G-6 had a wingspan of 9.92 m (32ft. 6.5 in.),
a length of 9.02 m (29 ft. 7 in.), a height of 3.4 m (11 ft. 2 in.)
and a weight of 2,700 kg (5,953 lb.) while empty.
The last of the mass-produced Bf 109s was the K model. When put together
the Bf 109s were produced in the largest amount, doubling the number
of any other Axis aircraft, 35,000 in total. The K series first appeared
in the autumn of 1944 with a maximum speed of 452 miles per hour and
a ceiling of 41,000 feet. Unlike previous models they excellent diving
and climbing performance, but were less maneuverable and more difficult
to fly [Insert Rwd22.jpg.art]. "The Spanish Air Force used Messerschmitts
refitted with Rolls-Royce Merlin engines well into the 1960s, and the
Bf 109 continued in production in Czechoslovakia after the war as the
Avia 199. Avia 199s were among the first fighters acquired by the nascent
Israeli Air Force in 1948" (http:/normandy.eb.com).
The Focke-Wulf or the Fw 190 was designed by Kurt Tank. This low-wing
monoplane powered by a BMW air-cooled radial engine was second in importance
only to the Bf 109. [Insert Rwd29.jpg.art] This fighter aircraft was
first flown in late 1941. "It proved to be an outstanding fighter
in its own right. Displaying excellent maneuverability and typically
carrying a heavy armament of two 7.9-millimetre machine guns in the
engine cowling, two 20-millimetre cannon at mid-wing; the Fw 190 became
the outstanding air-to-air fighter of the midwar period. Its only competition
from the Allied forces was the Spitfire. The Fw
190s were the first massed produced group of this line and had a top
speed of about 410 miles (660 kilometres) per hour and a ceiling of
35,000 feet (10,600 metres). Its great heavy cannon armament proved
it to be successful as a potent bomber destroyer and allowed it to turn
back the U.S. Army Air Force's unescorted daylight bombardment offensive
of 1943. [Insert Rwd97.jpg.art] To combat B-17 and B-24 defensive formations
Fw 190s were mounted with as many as four additional 20-millimetre cannon
in underwing gondolas. However in late 1943, turbo-supercharged drop-tank-equipped
American P-38s and P-47s outperformed them at heights above 30,000 feet.
The Fw 190 model came back though, in the winter of 1943-44, after
Tank equipped the airplane with a powerful Junkers Jumo 213 in-line,
liquid cooled engine that became known as the FW 190D. Its top speed
was about 440 miles per hour and had an armament of two cowling-mounted
machine guns and a pair of 20-millimetre cannon in the wing roots. Not
enough were produced however, to make a difference against the Allied
forces. But the Fw 190Fs and Gs had more success as standard fighter-bombers
for ground attack. Both ground-attack variants had additional armour
protection, and the g version also could carry a single 4,000-pound
(1,800-kg) bomb or numbers of smaller bombs. They were also night fighters
in 1943-44 by using searchlights and the glare of burning cities to
illuminate enemies and then attack as if it were day. Although these
Wildesau, "Wild Boar" tactics came in handy, they proved to
be too dangerous especially during winter weather, which forced them
to quit the project.
Just as the Wehrmacht Air Force had been prohibited from building their
aircraft, the German Army could not use or build their tanks. This however,
was beneficial for the Germans because they did not have to bother with
old-fashioned tanks that were obtrusive, unlike the French, British,
and Soviets. When Hitler came into power in 1933, he secretly began
rebuilding Germany's tank force and then openly in 1938. What he was
building was to be the Panzerkampfwagens, a series of six battle tanks
that would provide the striking power of Germany's armoured divisions
throughout the war.
The first of the Panzers was the Pz. I. This light tank, only protected
by armour 15-millimetres thick, served as a training vehicle for the
new panzer division. The tank weighed 5.4 tons, was lightly armed with
two 7.92-millimetre machine guns mounted on its turret, had a top speed
of 24 miles (39 kilometres) per hour, and was manned by a crew of two.
It was first used in the Spanish Civil War and then as an improved version,
the IB, against Poland and France. They were both successes because
they were used in masses, later however they were no match for heavier
enemy tanks. In total about 2,000 Pz. IBs were built, but only 1,450
fought against France in 1940.
The Pz. II, which went into full production in 1937, was larger and
more heavily armoured but was nevertheless a light tank. The first two
years of the war it was widely used, only because of delays of the Pz.
IIIs and Pz. IVs. "It carried a 20-millimetre gun and one machine
gun and was protected by armour with a maximum thickness of 30-millimetres.
The tank weighed 10 tons, had a top road speed of 25 miles per hour,
and was manned by a crew of three" (http:/normandy.eb.com). 1,000
Pz. IIs were used against Poland, France, and the Soviet Union but 50-
or 75-millimetre weapons mounted on allied tanks posed a great threat
and so the IIF version was armed with a larger gun and thicker armour.
The six-cylinder engine was too weak and could not handle the weight
of the heavier equipment, so the Panzer II was discontinued in 1942.
The Panzer III was the first medium tank and used in masses in 1939.
It started out with a 37-millimetre antitank gun and two machine guns.
It weighed about 20 tons, had a maximum speed of 25 miles per hour,
and accommodated a crew of five. But just as earlier Panzers, the Pz.
III had to be modified, and so they were given a 50-millimetre gun and
equipped with armour 30-50 millimetres thick. In order to avoid previous
malfunctions, the Pz. III was designed with a larger turret and a 12-cylinder,
300-horsepower engine to hold the weight. Once again the, Like previously,
the Pz. III was taken out of service, but only on the Eastern Front
because it could not compete with the Soviet T-34 and continued to fight
in the Mediterranean into 1943. That year, about 5,660 Pz. IIIs had
The Pz. IV looked like the Pz. III but had a larger turret and gun,
thicker frontal armour, and better cross-country mobility. Along with
the Pz. V Panther, they formed the backbone of Germany's panzer divisions
from 1943 to the war's end. When they first came out in 1939, they carried
a 75-millimetre gun and two machine guns and was shielded by armour
in thickness from 30-80 millimetres. It had a weight of 25 tons, carried
a crew of five, and had a top speed of 25 miles per hour. They also
had a short-barreled gun that worked fine, until the T-34 came about.
It was reconstructed with a long-barreled, high-velocity gun that could
compete with the T-34 and became superior to the U.S. Sherman tank in
many areas. It was the only German tank to be constructed throughout
the war. "More than 8,000 Pz. IVs were built, making it the most
prolific of all German tanks. Its inexpensive, mass-produced chassis,
like those of its three predecessors, was used as a platform for various
types of antitank, assault, and self-propelled guns and also functioned
as an armoured personnel carrier" (http:/normandy.eb.com).
While trying to copy the Soviet T-34, the Pz. V Panther was developed
in 1942. Besides the T-34, the Panther was probably the finest tank
built by any country during the war. These heavy tanks weighed 45 tons,
had a 12-cylinder, 700-horsepower engine that enabled them to reach
a top speed of 28 miles per hour, and an excellent suspension system
gave it good cross-country mobility. Many other improvements included
a long-barreled, high-velocity 75-millimetre gun, an armour, 80 millimetres
thick at the front and 40-45 millimetres on the sides and rear, and
was sloped so that shells would ricochet off it. The Battle of Kursk
was devastating, as transmission, suspension, and cooling-system problems
did not allow tanks to reach the battle zone. Once modified though,
the tanks achieved success on Eastern and Western fronts, especially
against American Sherman tanks and British Cromwell tanks, in Normandy.
More than 5,000 were built.
So far, the largest threat to the Germans came from the T-34 and so
they hurriedly developed the Pz. VI Tiger to destroy it. This machine
was developed for the purpose of better ammunition and not so much for
speed. This was evident because it had a long barreled, high-velocity
88-millimetre gun, adapted from the German's formidable antiaircraft
(Flak) and antitank (Pak) guns. This gun could penetrate even the most
heavily armoured Soviet Tanks at extremely long range. The front armour
was 100 millimetres thick and the side and rear armour were 60-80 millimetres
thick. At first, they weighed about 55 tons and then later as the Tiger
II weighed 70 tons, which made the heaviest tank in the war. Due to
its heaviness, it could only travel at a top speed of 24 miles per hour
and 12 miles per hour (cross-country). It needed refueling after only
45-70 miles and usually broke down and had high maintenance. These tanks
were mainly used for defense and only about 1,340 were built.
Tanks were very plentiful, useful, and convenient weapons throughout
the war, and so tank destroyers were developed. Tank destroyers were
produced from the chassis that came from the Panzerkampfwagen tanks,
and the guns were adapted from models of the 88-millimetre antiaircraft
"Flak" and antitank "Pak" guns.
Two examples of the tank destroyers are the Panzerjager Nashorn (Rhinoceros)
and the Panzerjager Elefant (Elephant). Both were built on Panzer tank
chassis. The Rhinoceros went at maximum speed 25 miles per hour, a range
of 160 miles, a crew of five, a main gun fully enclosed in a lightly
armoured superstructure that did not rotate but allowed the gun to traverse
30 degrees. The Elephant was one of the most lethal and long lasting
armoured vehicles of the War because the hull had a maximum front armour
of 200 millimetres and side armour of 80 millimetres. A stable shelter
protected its 128-millimetre antitank gun. Its main gun could traverse
24 degrees and it had a maximum speed of 12.5 miles per hour, with a
range of 60 miles and with a capacity for a crew of six.
The Panzerfaust (Tank Fist) was a shoulder-fired antitank grenade launcher.
It was a simple weapon made from a steel tube containing a propellant
charge of gunpowder. The manner in which it worked is as follows: the
grenade (a small bomb attached to a wooden stem and fins) was inserted
into the front end of the tube. "When a firing pin on the outside
of the tube was tripped, it set off a percussion cap that ignited the
propellant charge. This in turn propelled the grenade a short distance
to the target, where it exploded. The hollow-charge head of the grenade
contained enough high explosive to penetrate even the thickest tank
armour (up to 200 millimetres). The exhaust from the propellant charge
exited the rear end of the tube, making the Panzerfaust a recoilless
weapon" (http:/normandy.eb.com). This was a one-shot, disposable
The Panzerschreck (Tank Terror) was a shoulder-type rocket launcher
used as an antitank weapon. It was made from a lightweight steel tube
about 5 feet (150 centimeters) long that weighed about 20 pounds (9
kilograms). This tube launched a 7.25-pound rocket-propelled grenade
that had a diameter of 3.5 inches (88 millimetres. Once loaded, the
operator pulled two firing triggers, the first to cock the tube's magnetic
ignition system and the second to release it, thereby creating a small
electrical current that ignited the rocket's motor. Its maximum range
was about 500 feet (150 metres) and its powerful hollow-charge explosive
could penetrate 8.25 inches of armour, thicker than that of any Allied
tank. The Americans believe that it is a copy of their bazooka, which
had fallen into German hands.
Ambrose, Stephen E. D-Day: The Climatic Battle of World War II.
New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994.