Sturmgeschütz (or StuG) meaning "assault gun" was a series of armored vehicles used by the German Wehrmacht during the Second World War that primarily consisted of the StuG III and StuG IV. The most common of the two, the StuG III, was built on the chassis of the proven Panzer III. The StuG III was initially designated "StuG" but with the creation of the StuG IV it was re-designated the "StuG III" to distinguish the two. Initially they were intended as a mobile, armored gun platform, providing close fire support to the infantry to destroy bunkers, pillboxes and other entrenched positions. As the war progressed a number of aspects of the StuG series made them a valued supplement to the panzer forces.
Following invasion of Soviet Russia in 1941 a significant problem developed when it was discovered that the main armament on the Panzer Mk II, III and IV tanks were all inadequate to deal with the newer Soviet T-34 and KV-1 tanks. The main German anti-tank gun, the 37 mm Pak 36, also proved unable to penetrate the armour of these Soviet designs. Though a more powerful 75 mm Pak 40 gun was being developed, the turret of the Panzer Mk III, Germany's main battle tank, could not handle the larger barreled gun. It was found, however, that the turretless StuGs had enough room in the crew compartment to handle the 75 mm Pak 40, and this modification was made. The new vehicle proved to be an effective tank destroyer. Not only was its main gun powerful enough to knock out the new Soviet tanks, but the Panzer Mk III chassis on which it was based was highly mobile and reliable, and the increased armour plating combined with its low silhoutte made it a difficult vehicle to destroy. The StuG became Nazi Germany's most produced armored fighting vehicle during World War II.
The StuG was used primarily within the Sturmartillerie, a branch of the artillery in the Wehrmacht.
Following the defeat of the German Empire in World War I, military commanders from the Reichswehr began to consider how mobile armored artillery units could provide support to advancing infantry units. Colonel Erich von Manstein recommended the concept of infantry Begleitbatterien (escort batteries) to General Beck, Chief of the General Staff in 1935. Manstein theorized the vehicle would not be used as one uses a tank, but rather as an infantry support vehicle to destroy fortified objectives through direct fire. Its mission was to destroy prepared defensive works, pill boxes, machine gun emplacements and tanks. It was not intended to be used to exploit breakthroughs and drive into the enemy rear areas, as the panzertruppen units were intended to do.
Daimler-Benz AG was given the order to develop and produce such a weapon on June 15, 1936. They created five prototypes, based on the chassis of the Panzer III, which were not useful for combat operations but did prove valuable for training.
The first production units, the Sturmgeschütz III Ausf A, arrived in 1940 mounted with the 75 mm StuK 37L/24 gun and increased frontal hull armor (from 30 mm to 50 mm). The main armament, which had a limited lateral traverse, was mounted directly in a casemate-style hull. This created the lowest possible profile in order to reduce the vehicle's height, making the StuG more difficult to hit and easier to protect in hull defilade.
Between 1942 and 1943, the StuG was one of the most effective tracked vehicles of World War II in terms of opposition vehicles destroyed, and over 10,000 of them were eventually produced. The inability to traverse the gun at times became a significant weakness, and the lack of an internal light machine gun in the initial models left the StuG vulnerable to close-range infantry attack. A machine gun and shield were added to later versions.
The omission of a regular tank turret also made for much simpler and cost-effective production, enabling greater numbers to be built. However the lack of traverse movement in the gun meant the entire vehicle had to be turned left or right in order to acquire targets.
In November 1943, Alkett, a major StuG III manufacturer, was bombed, and Alkett's Stug production declined from 255 StuG IIIs in October 1943, to just 24 vehicles in December. In a December 1943 conference, Hitler welcomed the suggestion of taking the StuG III superstructure and mounting it on a Panzer IV chassis to offset the loss of production of the StuG III. This restarted the Sturmgeschütz IV project, which had earlier been considered and rejected. The superstructure of the StuG III Ausf. G was mounted on a Panzer IV chassis 7. The Krupp plant, which did not produce Panzer IIIs, used the Panzer IV chassis with a modified StuG III superstructure, with a box compartment for the driver added. Combat weight was 23000 kg, lighter than the 23900 kg for the StuG III Ausf. G. On Dec. 16-17, 1943, Hitler was shown the StuG IV, and approved it. To make up for the large deficit in StuG III production, StuG IV production received full support.
Because of the decreased costs and ease of production, the Germans began to use the StuGs to replace standard tank losses. They were used in this fashion as German losses of all types of armored vehicles now exceeded production. The StuGs proved effective in a defensive role, but were a poor substitute for conventional tanks offensively. Thus the panzer regiments continued to be equipped with Panzer Mk IV and Panther medium tanks for offensive operations. Meanwhile heavier armed tank destroyers were developed, such as the Jagdpanzer IV and the Jagdpanther, which combined the low silhoutte of the StuG with the heavier armament of the Panther and Tiger II tanks, respectively. Still, the StuG III was an effective armoured fighting vehicle long after the Panzer Mk III had been retired as a main battle tank.
The Red Army suffered greatly from the StuGs, and the German 75 mm Pak 40 of the Panzer Mk IV and long barreled 75mm/L70 of the Panther had a distinct edge in range and penetration power over the 76 mm main armament of the T-34s and KV-1s. To compensate, the Soviets developed an 85 mm gun, but this was too large to fit into the turret space of either tank. The Russians mounted the gun onto the chassis of a T-34, with the glacis plate and sides extended upwards into a fixed casemate in place of the turret (like the later German Jagdpanzers had) to mount the gun in the glacis plate, creating the SU-85, a dedicated tank destroyer; unlike the German Panzers, the Soviet chassis had its transmission in the rear, creating the trademark single-piece sloped glacis. The SU-85 took advantage of the excellent mobility and sloped armour of the T-34 chassis, its low profile made it more difficult to hit, and the new gun helped offset the undergunned T-34 tanks. In 1944 a new enlarged turret came out for the T-34 that enabled it to handle the same 85 mm gun, and the SU-85, though still effective, lost the advantage in armament. The Soviets hence set about developing an even larger gun to mount in the T-34 chassis, and produced the SU-100, one of the best tank destroyers of the war, which had enough firepower to deal with the heaviest of German tanks; but like SU-85, its gun was eventually fitted to the rotating turret of the next successful medium tank - the T-54/55 family.
In addition to tank destroyers, the Soviets also developed a line of more traditional assault guns with casemate mounts (also designated "SU-caliber"), having previously developed the assault-gun-equivalent KV-2 tank, which had a 152 mm howitzer in an enormous turret that had significant trouble turning on uneven terrain. The new assault guns were based on the T-34 chassis (SU-122), KV-1S chassis (SU-152) and the IS-2 (hence ISU-122 and ISU-152). These assault guns however proved equally dangerous as impromptu but devastating tank destroyers, especially the 152 mm version, both of which received the nickname "Zveroboi" ("Beast slayer").
A number of captured StuGs were refurbished in the Soviet Union and given to Syria, along with Panzer IVs, which used them briefly against Israel. A captured Syrian Panzer IV and StuG III are on display at the Armor Museum in Israel. The StuG was also used in Finland post-war where one unit even mixed StuGs and British turreted 'Charioteer' tank destroyers. A Finnish StuG (posing as a German one) appears in the movie 'The Eagle Has Landed' and ex-Finnish StuGs have since turned up in British war museums. Bovington Tank Museum in Dorset has one painted in Finnish markings. The Imperial War Museum's Duxford site also has an ex-Finland StuG but its markings are more ambiguous.
Another StuG III, in the possession of The Wheatcroft Collection, is awaiting restoration.
- Liddell Hart, B.H., The German Generals Talk. New York, NY: Morrow, 1948.
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