Early War Armor: a primer on Tanks in the view of “Girls Und Panzer” pt. 1

So yeah a guest post by a dude who is a Yukari-class Panzer fan. Please be gentle folks.

Hello and welcome to what I hope will be the start to a series of posts (to be put up somewhere) on the tanks and battle tactics shown in the series of “Girls und panzer”. This will be done with two different series each split into several parts, these primer posts focusing on the tank teams in which I discuss what each tank was meant to do irl and how I felt they pulled them off in the series (expect a lot of angry opinions), and another series of posts to follow in which I will discuss the tactics they actually use in battle (to be released on a battle to battle basis, expect more angry opinions).

In this first post I will be discussing our main character’s team: the Ooarai team consisting of a StuG III, an M3 Lee, a Pz38(t), a type 89, a PzIV, and a bunch of girls who physically should not be able to drive these tanks.

Starting off with the reliable Sturmgeschutz III, or StuG III for short. This vehicle has the honor of being the most produced tracked vehicle by the Germans during WWII (being cheaper to build than a PzIII due to replacing the turret with a casemate), with roughly over 10,000 StuG III’s of all types having been built of the course of the war. Originally meant as a direct infantry support tank (and classified as self-propelled artillery), it was built in order to help infantry assault armored fortifications (such as pillboxes) in addition to simply helping them kill the enemy. Using the PzIII ausf F chassis, the StuG III was built with a specific order to give it a low profile (not to exceed the height of an average man).

During the war, StuG’s were known to be notoriously good at ambushes (their low profile makes them dead easy to camouflage), as well as, when engaging tanks, being hard to target properly due to them being so low to the ground. The tank shown in Girls und Panzer is specifically the StuG III ausf F, the product of current war doctrine changing from being mainly tanks supporting infantry vs. other infantry, to tank engaging and taking out other tanks. It was at this point that they started re-configuring the StuG III into the role of a tank destroyer, a tank which sacrifices a full turret in order to mount a bigger gun, thus making it good for ambushing and taking out surprised tanks with ease.

This ausf F sports a 75mm StuK 40 L/43 anti-tank gun, and 80mm (of slightly sloped) frontal armor. The 75mm gun is capable of penetrating 91mm of armor sloped 30 degrees at 500m, and 82mm of armor at 1000. This upgunning made this vehicle finally able to engage even soviet armor at normal combat ranges.
As a breakdown, the stug is meant to, using its accurate and powerful (for the time) gun, ambush and effectively eliminate enemy armor from a safe position, hopefully leaving the enemy disoriented terrorized and weakened.

The StuG III in Girls und Panzer, however, in addition to being crewed by an extremely thematically confused bunch, has also been painted into what I can only describe as a monstrous travesty to its original purpose. The gaudy paint job and flags make this all but impossible to hide in most circumstances (this quantifier to be explained in a later post), and its accurate gun is wasted on this inexperienced crew. Not to mention the show’s misrepresentation the actual power of most of the guns and armor shown so far in this show. Please expect a lot of rage in general when I talk about the StuG.

Next up is the American M3 Lee. This American medium tank was originally meant as a stopgap tank while the Americans transitioned into something better suited to engage enemy armor, but due to popularity with the British (who coincidentally named it the Lee. All American tanks were originally only given their number designations), has grown to be a very successful tank during its career.

Being a stopgap tank, you can see many small clues of how tank doctrine was changing. American tanks needed to go from an armored vehicle with too many turrets and so many machine guns sticking out of it even the driver had one (it caused havoc with teamwork when the driver was turning everywhere trying to aim his gun) to something that could mount a big enough gun so as to be able to hurt other tanks instead of just engaging infantry. As evidence of this, The M3 lee still has a grand total of two turrets equipped with small infantry support cannons, and an anti-tank 75mm gun mounted to the hull (because they didn’t have a turret big enough to mount it back then).

The M3 Lee, with its 51mm of frontal armor and a 75mm gun, is a decently mobile tank that is hampered in fighting ability by a combination of moderately thin armor and what essentially amounts to a lack of a working turret. These limitations prevent it from effectively using mobility to avoid fire when in many cases its armor would force it to. The affectionately called “scrub team’s” M3, especially, being the first variant (a Lee I), suffers from this due to an inexperienced (and cowardly) crew, as well as hull integrity that is slightly compromised by being riveted together.

The terrible pink color scheme aside (bad for camo, not worse than the StuG), I won’t rag on this tank too much and I actually have hope for growth.

The Student Council crew’s Pz38(t) is actually a Czech tank that the Germans acquired when they annexed Czechoslovakia because they needed tank designs for use in training and early war scenarios.
Equipped with a 37mm gun and a widely varying amount of armor depending on when it was made (the design was up-armored several times, and applique armor had also been applied), this light tank of pre-war design and intent was retired early on for insufficiencies in both armor and power. The rather brittle Czech steel and riveted design made spalling more dangerous than any rounds themselves, making this tank extremely unreliable in tank to tank engagements.

Flat yellow isn’t a terrible color scheme on its own, but the Student council managed to somehow shine up this tank about 10000%. I honestly want to commend them for managing this, but don’t expect your tank to last very long if you can be easily identified over a kilometer away, especially if your tank is commanded by someone as careless (if passionate) as the vice president.
Also: beware of the fact that this tank usually has a 4 man crew, while in the show it is crewed by 3. Vice president as the Commander/Gunner, 3rd girl as the driver, and I honestly cannot tell if the President is acting as the hull gunner (which would make the Vice president the loader as well) or if she’s the loader and they are just forgoing the position of hull gunner. This may impact their performance, but we’ll have to see.

The Type 89 Chi-Ro (Or I-Go) crewed by the volleyball team is a piece of Japanese armor that is classified as a medium tank, but only due to lighter Japanese standards (being restricted to a small series of islands has its demerits) as well as interwar limitations. By any WWII standard, the size weight and armor thickness of the type 89 would put it under the light tank category.
The volleyball team crews a type 89B “Otsu” type, which holds the distinction of being one of the first tanks to use a diesel engine, which has the advantage of being less susceptible to being lit on fire.

The type 89 features around 15mm of frontal hull armor, although in some places it was as thin as 6. Its armor was proof to most infantry fire, but was too thin to properly engage in tank to tank battles. It carries a 57mm gun, which was honestly quite big for its time, and is capable of penetrating most inter to early war tanks. However, the tank was rather slow, and due to its thin armor, is easily knocked out. Overall the type 89 was not a bad piece of early armor, if you knew how to avoid return fire.

The volleyball team’s customizations are one of the least objectionable of the bunch, sporting only emblems and phrases which were rather common even in the actual war. In addition to being the least objectionable, this tank is also the least remarkable, being as far as I can tell crewed by very spirited and at least slightly competent people. I honestly can’t find much to say about this facet of the Ooarai team, other than that I hope they are found useful.

Last, but not least, is the PzIV crewed by our beloved MC team. Being the only tank in the show to have a specified model number (ausf D), you can tell that these people are important.
Like the Stug III, the Pz IV was originally intended to support infantry and not engage armor, as that role was assumed by the Pz III. That soon changed, however, as the Pz III became increasingly obsolete in the face of heavier more modern armor.

The PzIV saw service from the beginning to the end of the war (although it is most famous for being a Mid-war tank, as it was an object of concern for American armor when they jumped in). The ausf D, with 30mm of frontal armor was rather thin, although this got increased to 80mm later on, making it proof to most Shermans. In addition, the ausf D. was fitted with a short barreled 75mm howitzer, which could only pen about 40mm of armor at a range of 700 meters, making it very lacking in anti-tank ability.

The PzIV has a long service record and an even longer list of modifications which ultimately made it a very formidable existence on the battlefield. However, the ausf D, as an early war version, is not nearly as effective at tank warfare. With altogether too thin armor and a gun that has to rely on lucky spalling to have effect on most tanks from the front, I can’t expect this tank to do too well without being modified. (I expect them to power up during the series)

I actually really like what they did with this tank. I dunno modifying the inside is a good idea, and cushions are nice haha. I really hope they learn to use this tank better. Making use of this powerful but inaccurate gun in close range combat in conjunction with its good mobility would be fun to watch. (I say powerful because the gun, although not capable of penetrating much, is still able to do a lot of damage otherwise)

This covers the Ooarai team of tanks! Hope you found this useful, and look forward to my next post to cover the St. Glorianna tanks: The Churchill and the Matilda mk. II! Also to be posted soon will be my thoughts on the first (kind of official) tank battle between Ooarai and St. Glorianna in episode 4.

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  1. Posted November 2, 2012 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    Very informative!

    Judging by the OP, the…creative paint schemes may not surive the post-Gloriana repair and servicing, which is probably good.

    • R1CK_D0M
      Posted November 3, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, and yeah if what you’re saying is true I’ll do a little jig in my chair.

  2. Posted November 2, 2012 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    The biggest advantage that Panzer IV has, in context, is that it is a rather fast tank. And given Miho’s apparent reliance on maneuver to gain advantageous firing positions, that may be critical.

    However, it isn’t as fast as the Sherman, and the D is outclassed by the Sherman in pretty much every other regard. The next battle (against 5 Shermans) should be exciting.

    • R1CK_D0M
      Posted November 3, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      if by “rather fast” you mean “still inferior to the pz III”, then yes. And honestly I don’t think it’s Miho’s reliance rather than she knows what the tank is good at and tries to use it.

      btw yes, while the late war pzIV’s (ausf G, etc) get much better and can outclass the Sherman, the ausf D is completely inferior and I’m looking forward to seeing how she deals with it. Of course it probably won’t be too probable and I’ll have to rage a bit about it but still.

  3. Kherubim
    Posted November 2, 2012 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

    Why isn’t this on History Channel yet? This would be a lot better than Pawn Stars or that truck driving show.

  4. Posted November 2, 2012 at 11:37 pm | Permalink

    Man, this post is kinda beautiful.

    • R1CK_D0M
      Posted November 3, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      lol what do you mean “kinda”?

  5. Matt
    Posted November 2, 2012 at 11:45 pm | Permalink

    Very nice post.

    I love learning about all these things. Tanks, ships, fighters, guns, anything.

    Strike Witches, Upotte!, and now Girls und Panzer.

    I can’t wait to see what’s next.

    • R1CK_D0M
      Posted November 3, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

      lol thanks. Expect to see that tankfight post by mondayish.

  6. huntermad
    Posted November 3, 2012 at 2:30 am | Permalink

    However, it isn’t as fast as the Sherman, and the D is outclassed by the Sherman in pretty much every other regard. The next battle (against 5 Shermans) should be exciting.

    What are U talking about?
    High velocity 75mm of PzIV is great tank-killer but at the cost of HE performance. There is a reason the American keep 75 on Sherman despite poor anti-tank performance u know. Aand what version of Sherman U compare with PzIV anyway? The late version like Jumbo is more heavily armored than PzIV(Enough to take on 88 gun) or Easy Eight is faster and more maneuverable than PzIV.

    Also it should be written as “modern soviet armor”, BT-7 and T-28 is not that tough to require 75mm

  7. huntermad
    Posted November 3, 2012 at 2:47 am | Permalink

    God, Didn’t read carefully the comment….

    • R1CK_D0M
      Posted November 3, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

      Haha, nice save. Just to clarify with other people though:

      The pzIV was never outfitted with a high velocity (long) 75, only a short barreled howitzer, which had nearly no penetrative capability. Later on in the war it gets a long anti-tank 50mm (and they tried putting a long 75 on it to little success) which allowed it to compete against more recent tanks. The ausf D, however, is stuck with 30mm of armor and the short 75, so.

      Also: you kind of just negated your own comment. The sherman is the M4, Jumbo the M4A3E2, and the easy 8 the M4A3E8, they are different tanks with the same basic chassis. And they kept the 75 because the soldiers saw nothing wrong with it when they were circling german armor in open fields to hit their weak side and back armor anyway (this changed quickly when they found german armor in defensible positions and could not penetrate their front armor from a distance).

      Lastly: The easy 8 was indeed more maneuverable than the PzIV’s it would face, but the Jumbo, while mostly proof the pzIV guns, crumples to long 88 fire due to the fact that American steel tended to have a softer BHN (Brinell Hardness Number) than german steel.

      • Crusader
        Posted November 4, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

        No they did fit in a 75mm gun onto the Panzer IV in response to the T-34. There were plans to adopt the 50mm but those plans were shelved in favor of the 7.5 cm KwK 40 L/43. This causes some confusion as the Panzer V’s 7.5 cm KwK 42 L/70 was also a 75mm gun. So yes both the Panzer IV ausf F2/G/H/J and Panzer V had 75mm guns, but the one on the Panzer V had higher muzzle velocity as the longer barrel, among other things gave it tremendous penetrating power that rivaled the 88mm on the Tiger I.

        It’s important to note that the ausf G had a better transmission and was faster and more agile than the ausf H which had more armor, and Schürzen armored skirts. The ausf J was a simplified late war model that did not have the benefit of an electrical turret or quality manufacturing.

        The Americans stuck with the 75mm and the 76mm in later models because American Doctrine at the time still saw tanks as infantry support weapons while the bulk of the Anti-tank duties fell to the Tank Destroyers. In practice this did not work, but in terms of versatility the US Shermans favored guns that could serve as anti-infantry guns as well. Hence the British did upgrade a few M4s to Fireflies. the US did not and only added a 76mm dual purpose gun which was sufficient against the Panzer IV. It was mostly in bocage country that the inability to penetrate the front armor of Panzer Vs and Panzer VIs. Allied air superiority on the western front reduced the need for American armor to fight a Kursk, which must be factored into why the US did not try and to upgrade with QF 17s.

        • R1CK_D0M
          Posted November 4, 2012 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

          Oh yeah they did, sorry. I was thinking of the fact that they tried to fit a Panther turret on the PZIV so the could put a longer 75 on it but failed. Yes, the PZIV did eventually get an anti-tank 75mm.

          >Completely true, but irrelevant in the face of Girls und panzer. Good to point out, though.

          > Well, kind of. When the Americans jumped into Normandy they already recognized the need to have their shermans engage with enemy armor, as evidenced by the fact that they had weapons tests to see if american guns could penetrate german armor (The results said yes, but the used steel with american BHN, which was softer than german steel, so they were inaccurate). However, the soldiers did not see a problem once they got past Normandy, because most american tanks used their mobility to get around the isolated pockets of german armor anyway, and even the 75/76mm could penetrate german armor from the sides and back (when they encountered any. There are several reports where american forces managed to completely bypass german positions by accident.) This only became a problem when, as you said, they were forced to fight german armor from the front. Allied air superiority helped, but this was ultimately the reason the Americans rushed production of the 76/90mm guns as well as the M26 Pershing and M18 hellcat (there were ultimately too few and far between though). In addition, americans deployed the new HVAT ammo (which was entirely too scarce), as it proved to have better AP capability, without the inaccuracies of the british Sabot round.

          • Crusader
            Posted November 4, 2012 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

            I think you mean HVAP, and if so the limited distribution had more to do with the rarity of Tungsten than industrial capacity or willingness to use them. Allied Air Superiority did more than help it prevented the kind of mass armor engagement the Germans wanted and limited their strategic mobility. Even at the Battle of the Bulge, the Germans’ lack of strategic mobility showed as the Panzer Vs that made up the spearhead couldn’t even make it to Antwerp as planned as their fuel consumption was great and even when Allied Air Power was a non-factor during the storm American superiority in artillery blunted the offensive and did plenty to wreck the German time table enough so that the storm could clear and air power dealt the killing blow.

            The M26 was rushed as the heavier Panzer V was encountered in quantity, this was something that was missed in Allied intelligence when Normandy came up and for a while after. The Allies had assumed that the Panzer V was another heavy tank to be encountered in limited numbers. Unfortunately the Germans refused to rename their tank program despite the result being 15 tons heavier. The Panther was always envisioned as a successor to the Panzer IV as the backbone of the panzerwaffe unfortunately they never got production up, but they had enough where they were common enough to be a problem. Also depending on what you believe the M26 may have been sent out as a result of intel on the new Soviet heavy tanks….

          • R1CK_D0M
            Posted November 4, 2012 at 11:08 pm | Permalink

            Haha I was always under the assumption that HVAP and HVAT were two words for the same thing, but yes. Also it was not like I was arguing about why they were scarce, just that they were.

            Also, I’m sorry for lack of specification but I believed that “allied air superiority helped” was enough of a descriptor. Pretty much everything you say here is true haha.

            btw what was this argument about again?

          • Crusader
            Posted November 4, 2012 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

            Just a tid bit on why the Panther was a rude shock on the Western front, but Really the Germans simply refused to rename their weapons development programs and that caused no shortage of confusion in intelligence circles. Not an argument at all, but i just like talking about WWII topics way too much. :D

          • R1CK_D0M
            Posted November 4, 2012 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

            lol same here :). btw I neglected to mention this, but while that was part of the reason the new tanks were rushed, if you read some reports a lot of field commanders were starting to be unsatisfied with how their guns were doing (even with HVAP ammo) against german armor by around the battle of the bulge. I’m at least assuming the large amount of field complaints had something to do with it haha.

  8. Posted November 4, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    Fantastic post. As a history, and WW2 buff, I was excited to see this show use real tanks for the story. It will be interesting to see how closely they stick to facts, not only in the tanks and their capabilities, but in tactics as well. I’m looking forward to what you find next!

    • R1CK_D0M
      Posted November 4, 2012 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

      thanks. Will have more soon

  9. huntermad
    Posted November 11, 2012 at 5:10 am | Permalink

    The Panther was actually never really planned as the successor of PzIV anyway.
    It was an attempt to combine the advantages of T-34 with German engineering. If U play WOT, U will see the compeptitive design of Panther the VK3002DB which look ridilulously similar as T-34 which is one of the reasons it was dropped.
    The Tank classification of German was different from Allied, M26 and IS are the same weight class as Panther yet they are considered Heavy. People keep praising Panther as the best Medium in WW2 but they forgot it was significantly heavier than Allied Medium Tanks. When compare with the same weigh-class tanks, it was not that special.

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