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Panzerjäger (German "armour-hunters" or "tank-hunters", abbreviated to Pz.Jg. in German) was a branch of service of the Wehrmacht during the Second World War which were the anti-tank arm-of-service who operated anti-tank artillery, and made exclusive use of the tank destroyers which were also named Panzerjäger. They wore ordinary field-gray uniforms rather than the black of the Panzer troops; those Panzerjäger troops who crewed the tank-destroyers however wore the Panzer jacket in field gray.
From 1940 the Panzerjäger troops were equipped with vehicles produced by mounting an existing anti-tank gun complete with the gun shield on a tracked chassis to allow higher mobility.
Development of the Panzerjäger designs begun before the war with the Sturmgeschütz-designated armored vehicles, the initial German turretless tanks to use completely closed-in armored casemates, and continued until 1944, resulting in such casemate-design vehicles as the Jagdpanzer ("Hunting tanks"), purpose-built heavy-gun tank destroyers. These usually used upward extensions of both the glacis plate and hull sides to comprise three sides of their closed-in casemates. Panzerjäger continued to serve as a separate branch of the Heer until the end of the war, often replacing tanks due to production shortages.
Initially chassis of captured light tanks were used after turrets were removed, providing a cost-effective solution to German shortage of mobile anti-tank weapons in infantry divisions. Despite the shortcomings of light armour and high silhouette they were successfully used in their intended role.
From 1943 the Type 44 infantry divisions included the following divisional Panzerjäger-Abteilung:
- Staff company (Stabskompanie)
- 1. Panzerjäger-Kompanie equipped with 9 - 12 towed AT guns
- 2. StuG-Batterie equipped with ten StuG III, IV or Hetzer vehicles
- 3. Light anti-aircraft company (leichte FlaK-Kompanie) equipped with 12 towed 20 mm FlaK autocannons
Panzerjäger units were either assigned as 14th companies in infantry regiments, or as a whole Abteilung (battalions) within Panzer and Panzergrenadier divisions, in both SS and Heer (regular army). Independent battalions and regiments were used by Corps to protect most likely avenues of tank attacks, while divisions would often position their Panzerjäger on the flanks, or use them to support infantry advances against enemy using tanks. When used with tanks, despite intense inter-branch rivalry, Panzerjäger would work in teams, with the tank crews enticing enemy tanks to fire, disclosing their position, and Panzerjäger engaging the enemy from a defilade. Panzerjäger were often called upon to provide direct high explosive supporting fire to infantry by destroying machinegun and artillery positions, particularly in urban fighting.
Designs of the Panzerjäger vehicles varied based on the chassis used, which could be of three types:
- Early war open-topped superstructure on a light tank chassis
- Mid-war fully enclosed crew compartment on a medium or heavy tank chassis, as an added-on entity not usually integral to the original hull armor
- Late war unarmoured or shielded mounting on a half-track chassis
Notable tank destroyers in the Panzerjäger classification were:
- Panzerjäger I - 47 mm PaK on Panzer I chassis
- Marder I - 75 mm PaK on captured French chassis, the Lorraine 37L
- Marder II - 75 mm PaK or reused Soviet 76.2 mm gun on Panzer II chassis
- Marder III - 75 mm PaK or reused Soviet 76.2 mm gun on Czech-built Panzer 38(t) chassis
- Hornisse/Nashorn - 88 mm PaK on composite Panzer III/Panzer IV chassis
- Sturmgeschütz IV
- Elefant, the last Panzerjäger vehicle so designated
The later Jagdpanzer designation class was used from the beginning for each of the more integrally armored: