Cristina Durana



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.


BF 109

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.

Tiger tank


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).

Fw 190
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 been built.

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 weapon.


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.

Works Cited


Works Consulted

Ambrose, Stephen E. D-Day: The Climatic Battle of World War II. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994.