[Tanks 101] Armor Protection 1920-1980 – Features and Characteristics


Time to talk about the basics of Tank Armor. After all, we all wanna know the basics when we are diving into tank designs in upcoming videos. Note that this video is limited in scope and mostly deals with developments from the interwar period up to the 1980ies. Anyway, let’s get started with armor materials.

Armor Materials

The usual material for armor was and is steel, but there are different techniques of producing steel and also other materials. Let’s take a look.

Rolled Homogeneous Steel Armor

Rolled Homogeneous Steel Armor was for quite some time the standard steel armor for tanks. Rolled steel means that the hot steel was rolled through one or several pairs of rolls during the production. It can be easily produced in large quantities, but can only be bent to limited degree. Usually it is used for armor plates, Germany in World War 2 used for the most part rolled Armor, thus their tank hulls and turrets have great boxy features. In contrast the cast steel turret for the Sherman had round features. (Headquarters, US Army Materiel Command: Elements of Armament Engineering Part Two Ballistics, Cp. 10, p. 1)

Now, a few words about terminology, rolled steel plates are usually welded together, hence the term welded armor is usually use instead of rolled armor. Although, this can be a bit misleading since cast armor is also welded together unless the part is completely cast. Thus, cast turret or hull implies that large parts of the element are made from cast steel.

Cast Homogeneous Steel Armor

Now, the other main method for producing tank armor is steel casting. In this case the liquid hot metal is poured into a mold. This has the main advantage, because the armor can be molded into various shapes easily, allowing for curved areas and specific thicknesses. (Headquarters, US Army Materiel Command: Elements of Armament Engineering Part Two Ballistics, Cp. 10, p. 1-3)
Initially, this technique was rather rate, but it was already used in World War 1 for several versions of the French Renault FT tank’s turret. (Ogorkiewicz, Richard M.: Technology of Tanks, p. 359)
In World War 2, the British, Soviets and US used various cast turrets, but it isn’t so straight forward, e.g., the Churchill Mark III had a welded turret, whereas the Mark IV had a cast turret and for certain variations of the T-34 there exist both welded and cast turrets. As you can see, it can get quite complicated, even up to this day certain tanks have some variants with cast and welded turrets, like the T-90.

But back to World War 2, in general, although the Allies used more cast turrets than the Germans as the war progressed. After the Second World War, cast turrets became almost universal for main battle tank turrets. Since the 1950s it is also common to cast complete hulls. Nevertheless, as mentioned before even current tank models use also welded elements. (Ogorkiewicz, Richard M.: Technology of Tanks, p. 359)
Chemically, rolled and cast armor are almost the same. The main advantage of cast armor is that It can be molded into almost any shape.(Headquarters, US Army Materiel Command: Elements of Armament Engineering Part Two Ballistics, Cp. 10, p. 1-3)
Now, let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages. The disadvantages of cast armor is that heat treatment and other refining techniques are complicated or not possible, thus it is not as though and shock-resistant as rolled armor.

A Manual from the US Army Materiel command from 1963 states:
“In general, rolled armor is about 15% better in resistance to shock and penetration than cast armor. However, this advantage is offset to some extent by the varying angles of obliquity and irregular shapes possible in castings. These variations in shape considerably decrease the penetrating ability of certain types of projectiles.” (Headquarters, US Army Materiel Command: Elements of Armament Engineering Part Two Ballistics, Cp. 10, p. 1-3)
Note that I don’t know if this value is also correct for World War 2 steel nor current steel.

Cast armor although reduced the number of welded joints, especially considering turrets or hulls that are made out of one piece. (Ogorkiewicz, Richard M.: Technology of Tanks, p. 359)

Face-Hardened Homogeneous Steel Armor / High Hardness Armor

One way to improve the hardness of armor was to process the surface of the armor, this armor is called face-hardened homogenous Steel Armor. In this process, called carburizing, the armor is heated in a furnace for a considerable amount of time. Usually rolled armor plates were used for this. The advantage is it increases the hardness, thus increasing the chance that projectiles shatter on impact, but increased hardness also increases the brittleness. Additionally, the welding of such armor plates could often lead to cracking during the welding or afterwards. (Headquarters, US Army Materiel Command: Elements of Armament Engineering Part Two Ballistics, Cp. 10, p. 3) Thus, early example of face hardened armor before World War 2 were usually bolted or riveted, which wasn’t ideal. Furthermore, the process is quite expensive and not suited for mass production. During the 1960s the problem of cracking could be overcome and high hardness armor was used on light armored vehicles mostly. Only in 1980s the technology was suitable to produce dual hardness steel thick enough for main battle tanks. (Ogorkiewicz, Richard M.: Technology of Tanks, p. 359-361)

Nonferrous Armor Materials

There were also various non-iron-based armors (nonferrous), like titanium, aluminum, magnesium alloys, nylon, fiberglass and others. (Headquarters, US Army Materiel Command: Elements of Armament Engineering Part Two Ballistics, Cp. 10, p. 1-4)

Aluminum Armor

Probably one of the most notable non iron amored vehicles is the Armored Personal Carrier M113, which has aluminum armor and is also one of the most produced armored vehicles outside of the Soviet Union. Also other aluminum armored vehicles like the M114, M 108 and M109 were built. Although aluminum is lighter, for the same amount of protection about the 3 times the thickness is needed compared to rolled Steel. There are various advantages and disadvantages for aluminum. (Ogorkiewicz, Richard M.: Technology of Tanks, p. 367-368)

As pointed out by the author Ogorkiewicz:
“In addition to the savings in weight, aluminum armour is also easier to machine and the greater thickness of its plates makes it possible to use stepped joints, which provide a partial interlock between plates and require therefore less welding. All this has helped to reduce the cost of producing vehicles with aluminum armour but its cost per ton has been significantly higher than that of RHA [rolled homogenous armor].” (Ogorkiewicz, Richard M.: Technology of Tanks, p. 368)
There are various armored vehicles that use aluminum and/or aluminum alloys to a large degree, like the M551 Sheridan, the British Alvis Scorpion, the French AMX-10 and also the M2 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle. (Ogorkiewicz, Richard M.: Technology of Tanks, p. 368-369) Now, the Bradley also has composite armor, so let’s take a look at it.

Composite Armor

The wide adoption of shaped or hollow charges like the Panzerfaust, RPG and HEAT shells, allowed the penetration of thick monolithic steel armor quite easily, this lead to the development of composite armor. (Ogorkiewicz, Richard M.: Technology of Tanks, p. 369-370)

[NOTE: shaped and hollow charges are used interchangeably here]

To spare you and me some complicated math here, basically hollow charges are not too much affected by the density of the material, thus certain lower density material provide better protection for their mass in comparison to steel, hence the term for this is also called mass effectiveness, which almost sounds like a really cheesy title for a computer game. The problem is that the resulting thickness usually makes those materials impractical to protect against shaped charges. Furthermore, they are also quite useless against regular anti-tank ammo or to use the technical term kinetic energy projectiles. (Ogorkiewicz, Richard M.: Technology of Tanks, p. 370)
Yet, the combination of low and high density material, can provide effective armor protection. The US started to develop composite armor at the end of the Second World War, there were firing tests with Shermans. Later on different version of composite armor were developed for the M48 and M60 Patton, but didn’t see mass production due to cost and difficulty in production. (Ogorkiewicz, Richard M.: Technology of Tanks, p. 370-371)
Yet, the British developed the so called “Chobham Armor”, which was also used by the US and Germany in their designs since the early 1970s.
“Since then almost all new battle tanks have been built with some form of composite or multi-layered armour instead of monolithic steel armour”. (Ogorkiewicz, Richard M.: Technology of Tanks, p. 371)
There are various materials like glass, ceramic and aluminum oxide, that offer greater protection against shaped charges than their density might suggest. Yet, those materials often have their disadvantages. The most effective approach is to use multi-layered armor consisting of steel and said materials. The effectiveness can also be improved by spacing those layer, although this makes the armor more bulky.(Ogorkiewicz, Richard M.: Technology of Tanks, p. 371-373)

Explosive Reactive Armor

Another protection against shaped charges was explosive reactive armor. It was developed in the 1970s and was first used by the Israelis in their operations in 1982 in Lebanon with British Centurions and US M60A1’s. A few years later the Soviet T-64 and other Soviet tanks were also equipped with reactive armor. (Ogorkiewicz, Richard M.: Technology of Tanks, p. 374-375)
Now, to properly explain reactive armor, we need some basic understanding of shaped charges. To put it very simple, a shaped or hollow charge creates a kinetic effect that punches through armor, reactive armor solves this problem by exploding. Of course it is a bit more complicated than that, reactive armor is basically a hollow brick consisting of an explosive charge between two metal plates. Now, if the brick is penetrated by a shaped charge, the explosives go off and brick expands towards the shaped charge. There are two effects that reduce the effectiveness of the shaped charge, first its velocity and angle is changed and second the expansion of the plates requires the molten jet to go through more space.
Of course reactive armor must be designed resistant enough to be unaffected by artillery fragments and small arms fire. Also it can be a potential hazard to unbuttoned crew and nearby supporting infantry. (Ogorkiewicz, Richard M.: Technology of Tanks, p. 374-375; Cooney, Patrick J.: Armor, January-February 1988, p. 7; Yap, Chun Hong Kelvin: The Impact of Armor on the Design, Utilization and Survivability of Ground Vehicles, p. 68-70)

Physical Properties

Now, before we look at the ballistic properties, let’s take a look at the physical properties, because those are determining the ballistic ones. And the most important physical properties are:
“(a) Hardness: the ability of the armor to resist indentation.
(b) Toughness: the ability of the armor to absorb energy before fracturing.
(c) Soundness: the absence of local flaws, cavities, or weaknesses in the armor. Unsoundness is not so often found in rolled armor as in cast armor, because of the mechanical working which has been done during the hot-rolling process.” (Headquarters, US Army Materiel Command: Elements of Armament Engineering Part Two Ballistics, Cp. 10, p. 1-7)

Note that a high hardness, which is measured by the Brinell Hardness Number (BHN), usually makes armor quite brittle and easier to break, thus reducing the toughness rating. Thus, increasing one value can also lead to the reduction of another value, hence the proper balance is more important than one local maximum.
Ballistic Properties / Armor Characteristics
So, let’s move on to the basic ballistic properties that are most important for tank armor.
“The necessary ballistic properties which are required of armor consist of resistance to penetration, resistance to shock, and resistance to spalling.” (Headquarters, US Army Materiel Command: Elements of Armament Engineering Part Two Ballistics, Cp. 10, p. 1-6)

Resistance to Penetration

Resistance to penetration is quite simple, it is the ability of the armor to resist the partial or complete penetration, which is called perforation by the way, through the armor plate. (Headquarters, US Army Materiel Command: Elements of Armament Engineering Part Two Ballistics, Cp. 10, p. 1-7)

Resistance to Shock

Next is resistance to shock, which means the ability of the armor to absorb energy without cracking or rupturing. Note that resistance to shock is referring to energy, thus it includes both projectiles as also explosion. Also atmospheric condition can change this property, low temperature makes most materials more brittle and thus more likely to crack. Something you should consider, especially if you want to invade Russia, Canada or Finland. (Headquarters, US Army Materiel Command: Elements of Armament Engineering Part Two Ballistics, Cp. 10, p. 1-7)

Resistance to Spalling

Finally, resistance to spalling, which is the property of armor resisting to partial cracking, flaking and breaking away of smaller elements, especially on the opposite side of the penetration. Usually, spalling results in an expanding hole from the entry to the exit of the armor plate. (Headquarters, US Army Materiel Command: Elements of Armament Engineering Part Two Ballistics, Cp. 10, p. 1-7)

Or to put it another way, resistance to spalling is the property of your armor plates preventing themselves from transforming into a shotgun blast that turns your crew into Swiss cheese.

Penetration vs. Perforation

Now, while reading I encountered a very interesting distinction, it seems that most of us use the term penetration not quite precisely. To quote:

“The term penetration is reserved for the entry of a missile into the armor without passing through it. The term perforation implies the passage of the missile completely through the armor.” (Headquarters, US Army Materiel Command: Elements of Armament Engineering Part Two Ballistics, Cp. 10, p. 11)

Now, if one thinks in more biological terms this actually makes quite a lot of sense. But, in case you wanna go full Penetration-Perforation-Nazi, here is a list of subreddits that will really enjoy your comments:

Whereas the word “enjoy” is used rather loosely here.

Surface Design and Features

The overall Surface design of tank armor should be focused on providing appropriate protection in relation to the expected direction of attack, e.g., strong frontal armor and weaker rear armor. Furthermore, the tank should have an overall convex surface and as a short reminder, this is what concave looks like. Now imagine some shot ricochets here with the convex shape the projectile will fly always away from the shape, but with the concave shape it can hit the shape after bouncing off. (Headquarters, US Army Materiel Command: Elements of Armament Engineering Part Two Ballistics, Cp. 10, p. 4)

Shot Traps

In context with armor design convex is reached by the absence of reentrant angles. These so called “shot traps” would often occur between the turret and the hull. What makes them so dangerous is that the deflected projectiles could strike weak spots in the armor that were usually hard to hit, like the top of the hull. Probably the best known shot trap of World War 2 is the early Panther. As you can see here a shot that bounces from the gun mantlet will deflect into the upper side of the hull, which is weakly armored. This was the reason, why the gun mantlet was changed. As you can see here, the lower Panther is a later variant. Here, the same shot will not be directed towards the hull if it ricochets. Reentrant angles are also relevant when attack by high-explosive shells, because they will also redirect the explosive blasts and fragments into lesser protected areas. (Headquarters, US Army Materiel Command: Elements of Armament Engineering Part Two Ballistics, Cp. 10, p. 4)


Yet, another aspect that is less obvious is that the surface should be as regular as possible. Basically, every irregularity that breaks the uniformity of the armor will restrict the uniform absorption of energy and as a result could damage the armor. (Headquarters, US Army Materiel Command: Elements of Armament Engineering Part Two Ballistics, Cp. 10, p. 4)

Thus, “A flat, smooth wall of constant thickness offers the best resistance to severe attack, principally because the shock of impact can be uniformly absorbed over the entire area.” (Headquarters, US Army Materiel Command: Elements of Armament Engineering Part Two Ballistics, Cp. 10, p. 4)

Sloped Armor

Now, probably one of the best known armor features is sloped armor, which was one of the features the Russian T-34 is well known for. Sloped Armor is basically armor that is not angled at 90 degree. Sloped Armor increases the effectiveness of armor in two ways, first it increases the distance the projectile has to perforate. In this case, an armor of the thickness of 1.2 has an effective armor thickness of about 1.7 if it is angled at 45 degree. And Secondly, due to the angle deflections and also shattering of projectiles becomes more likely.
Note that sloping usually doesn’t reduce the effectiveness of shaped charges. (Ogorkiewicz, Richard M.: Technology of Tanks, p. 363)

Spaced Armor & Armor Skirts (Schürzen)

Another way to improve armor rating is by using spaced armor, one of the first tanks that was fitted with spaced armor was a late Panzer III in 1942. After the Second World War spaced armor was not used commonly until the 1960s. Yet, sometimes spaced Armor is not so obvious than in World War, e.g., the Leopard 2A5 uses spaced armor at the frontal part of the turret. Probably the best known use of spaced armor are the German “Schürzen” or armor skirts in World War 2. (Ogorkiewicz, Richard M.: Technology of Tanks, p. 363-365)
These were originally introduced to protect the sides of German armored vehicles against Soviet anti-tank rifles that fired conventional Kinect rounds. Why do I mention that? Because there is a on ongoing myth out there that the skirts were introduced to protect against shaped charges, yet at the time of the introduction of the armor skirts in 1943 shaped charges weren’t common on the battlefield yet.(Spielberger, Walter: Sturmgeschütze, S. 92-93)
Skirts were not common the first decades after the Second World War, but were reintroduced with the British Centurion and other tanks in the 1960s and 70s. Although this time in order to protect against shaped charges. (Ogorkiewicz, Richard M.: Technology of Tanks, p. 365)

Slat, Cage, Chain and Bar Armor

There are also other forms of spaced armor, namely slat, cage or bar armor, which was also used in World War 2 with wire meshes instead of metal plates for the skirts. It usually consists of steel bars that are located at a certain distance to the main armor of the vehicle. After World War 2, slat armor saw a reintroduction in the 1960s and recently it is used by Israeli and US troops in the Middle East to protect against shaped charges. Also, since it is relatively easy to produce, vehicles used in the current conflicts in Iraq and Syria are equipped with all kinds of slat and chain armor. You might check out the galleries that the blog “Tank and Armored Fighting Vehicles News” put up, as always the link is in the description.(Ogorkiewicz, Richard M.: Technology of Tanks, p. 365; https://tankandafvnews.com/2016/01/18/armored-oddities-of-syriairaq/)

Feasibility, Cost & Strategic Resources

As a final remark, one important aspect that we need to consider then it comes to armor is the feasibility in terms of industry, cost and resources, which is probably very well expressed with this remark from 1963:
“The alloys of certain light metals show future promise for use as aircraft armor where the importance of weight saved would offset the disadvantages of substituting a more expensive, strategically critical material in place of steel.” (Headquarters, US Army Materiel Command: Elements of Armament Engineering Part Two Ballistics, Cp. 10, p. 1-4)


To summarize, steel was and is a common material for armoring tanks, once it was used almost exclusively. It has a high density and is quite easily to produce in large quantities. The introduction of shaped charges although allowed to penetrate even very thick steel plates easily. To counter shaped charges various measures were introduce like spaced, composite and explosive reactive armor. Thus, nowadays a tank is usually armored with a multiple layers of different materials and/or additional armors like spaced and reactive armor.
Although steel was the main material for main battle tanks for light armored vehicles aluminum alloy armor is not uncommon since the 1960s.

Armor design is a complex topic, because many factors affect each other, for instance the key physical properties of tank armor are hardness, toughness and soundness, whereas increased hardness usually decreases toughness.

Furthermore, certain materials and techniques are quite expensive, thus armor design is not only influenced by military aspects, but also by feasibility in terms of the industrial capabilities and resources of the producing country.


Headquarters, US Army Materiel Command: Elements of Armament Engineering Part Two Ballistics.

Ogorkiewicz, Richard M.: Technology of Tanks, Jane, Volume 1-3.

Yap, Chun Hong Kelvin: The Impact of Armor on the Design, Utilization and Survivability of Ground Vehicles: The History of Armor Development and Use

Cooney, Patrick J.: Armor, The Professional Development Bullentin of the Armor Branch PB 17-88-1, January-February 1988.

Spielberger, Walter: Sturmgeschütze

Tank and AFV News – Armored Oddities of Syria/Iraq






Assault Artillery – History & Organization of Assault Gun Units #Stug Life


Time to talk about the famous the German assault guns or as they are called in German “Sturmgeschütze”. Now this video is more about the branch and organization and not individual vehicles. Thus, the name “assault artillery”, because this is the translation of the original name for this branch in German which was “Sturmartillerie”.

Origin Story

Now, the origin story of the assault artillery begins unsurprisingly in World War 1. During the war a common problem was that after a successful initial attack, the follow-up attack advanced too far for proper artillery support or that it took too long to move the guns forward. Furthermore, there was a lack of direct fire support, after all most guns were quite unwieldly and the terrain usually quite deformed from artillery fire, additionally these guns were usually not well protected even from small arms fire. (Wettstein, Adrian: Sturmartillerie, S. 2; see also Artillery Combat in World War 1)

The Initiative – Manstein’s Memorandum

The first major call for a “Sturmartillerie” as a mobile and armored infantry support gun was in 1935 in a memorandum from Erich von Manstein, back then, when he was still a Colonel. (Wettstein, Adrian: Sturmartillerie, S. 3)

He proposed three main formations as the base for the Army:

1) Independent Tank division with their own organic infantry and artillery units to support the tanks.
2) Independent Tank Brigades that consisted only of tanks and that were under the authority of the Army Command to allow for the localized concentration of force.
3) Regular Infantry division with organic assault gun units to support the infantry units.

Now, the important part here is that the assault gun units should be an organic part of the infantry division. Why is this important? Well, organic divisional units are trained with the division and stay with the division all the time. This means, that other division units are familiar with these units and are also trained in operations where the various different units supported each other, thus everyone involved knows of the strength and weaknesses of the units.
Remember, even to this day tanks without proper infantry support can be quite vulnerable. Additionally, you need to consider that back then most of the German division weren’t even motorized, thus a Sturmgeschütz was quite an oddity that was mostly known from propaganda. Hence, a lot of soldiers attributed qualities to these units that they couldn’t fulfill. Something that could be deadly in combat situations. (Wettstein, Adrian: Sturmartillerie, S. 3-4)

Note that the proposed number of units per division was still relatively small. Every division should have one battalion with 3 batteries each with 6 stugs, thus only 18 stugs in total. (Wettstein, Adrian: Sturmartillerie, S. 3-4) But, numbers without context can be misleading. So, let’s look at a weapon system with a similar role and its number, this would be the light infantry support gun and in a regular German infantry division of 1940, just 20 of these were present, thus the number of 18 stugs is actually not that low as it might appear at first glance. (Source: Alex Buchner: Handbuch der Infanterie 1939-1945)

The first 5 prototypes were ready in Winter 1937, after which a first series of 30 units was ordered. This series wasn’t completely delivered until May 1940, hence the first time StuGs were used in significant numbers was during Operation Barbarossa. (Wettstein, Adrian: Sturmartillerie, S. 4)

Problems & Delays

The original plan called for an assault gun battalion for each active division until Fall 1939. Yet, due to changes in the command structure, delays in the specifications, limits of the German arms industry and internal rivalries this goal was never achieved. (Wettstein, Adrian: Sturmartillerie, S. 3-4)

Even far from it, even in in May 1940 only 2 batteries were operational, whereas around 180 would have been necessary to equip all active divisions in May 1940. (Frieser, Karl-Heinz: Die deutschen Blitzkriege; in: Wehrmacht: Mythos & Realität. (S. 184); Wettstein, Adrian: Sturmartillerie, S. 4-5) Furthermore, the Tank Brigades were realized neither. (Wettstein, Adrian: Sturmartillerie, S. 7)

Operational History

At the start of Operation Barbarossa in June 1941 the situation had changed, around 250 StuGs were ready, these were organized in 11 battalions and 5 independent batteries. (Wettstein, Adrian: Sturmartillerie, S. 6)

During combat it became obvious that the combat effectiveness of infantry units was increased by a large degree due to the use of the assault gun units. Due to the high amount of training, firepower and mobility. It should be noted that the assault guns were part of artillery branch, thus they were accustomed to supporting infantry from the get go. Furthermore, the better optics and stronger emphasis on artillery practice resulted in higher hit chances. Yet, one major problem was that the battalions were part of the overall Army Units and not organic units of the infantry divisions as Manstein originally had proposed, thus the coordination between the infantry and StuGs was limited. (Wettstein, Adrian: Sturmartillerie, S. 6)

By the end of 1942 around 27 Stug Battalions were operational on the Eastern Front, furthermore the required strength increased from 22 to 31 StuGs, although on average only 12 were operational. This means around 320 Stugs operational. (Wettstein, Adrian: Sturmartillerie, S. 7)

Although the assault guns were originally intended for infantry support, their role changed on the Eastern Front. Soon they were used more and more as tank destroyers, because the German anti-tank guns with 37mm and 50 mm were simply not able to deal with the T-34 and KV-1, although in Summer 1942 the 75mm Pak 40 was introduced this gun was too heavy to have tactical mobility.
Since Spring 1942 the StuGs were upgraded to the F version that used the long barreled 75mm gun that was also capable with dealing with Russian tanks. And unlike the dedicated tank destroyers like the Marder I and II, it was better armored and also had a far lower silhouette. Thus, the StuG III F was the best German anti-tank weapon at its introduction. As a result, many StuGs were used in the anti-tank role, but thus they were missing for their intended role, namely supporting infantry. This was the reason for the development of the “Sturmhaubitze” (StuH), literally meaning assault howitzer. (Wettstein, Adrian: Sturmartillerie, S. 7-9)

By the end of 1943 there were 39 assault gun battalions on the Eastern Front with a total of 1006 StuGs. The average operational rate increased to 15 Stug for each battalion. In 1943 the Wehrmacht was mostly on the defensive and the StuG became a mainstay of the defense. Once Guderian became inspector for the tank troops (“Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen”), he continuously tried to get the assault artillery integrated into the tank destroyer units, yet without success. Nevertheless, quite a large number of produced StuGs were transferred into tank divisions to compensate for the lack of regular tanks. (Wettstein, Adrian: Sturmartillerie, S. 9-11) This situation worsened after the failed 20th July assassination attempt against Hitler, after which Guderian became Chief of Staff. He limited the total amount of assault gun battalions to 45 and furthermore assigned a smaller portion of the produced StuGs to the assault artillery branch. (Wettstein, Adrian: Sturmartillerie, S. 11)

Although the output of assault guns increased year by year and reached its peak in 1944. More and more numbers were assigned to other branches. Ultimately, in March 1945 the total number of assault gun battalions was 37 with a total number 606 operational vehicles. (Wettstein, Adrian: Sturmartillerie, S. 12-13)

Panzertruppe – Parallel Developments “Sturmpanzer”

Now, some of you might wonder, what about the various other variants of German armored support vehicles with large guns that were similar to assault guns, like the Sturmpanzer “Bison”, the Sturmpanzer 38(t) “Grille” and of course the “Sturmtiger”? Well, those were all parallel developments by the German Tank branch.
Most of them were used with rather limited success, they were usually built upon obsolete vehicles and traded firepower for mobility and protection. Thus, giving them a rather unbalanced quality, their combat effectiveness was quite limited and for the most part they were just a waste of already limited resources. To a certain degree these parallel development by the tank branch were motivated by the fact that the assault guns were part of the artillery branch and thus avoid any dependencies to that branch. (Wettstein, Adrian: Sturmartillerie, S. 5-6)

Organization of StuG Units

Now, there is one question that military historians up to this day haven’t answered yet, namely what is the difference between Thug Life and StuG Life?
Well, first, the German accent and second, organization, organization , organization, so here we go.

Sturmbatterie / Sturmgeschützbatterie 1939 (K.St.N.445)

Now the original Assault Battery from 1939 had the following organization:
1 battery headquarters, 3 Platoons, an lightly armored ammo column, a transport unit and a maintenance squad.
Each of the three platoons consisted of just of 1 observation halftrack, 2 StuG III and 2 ammo half tracks.
Now, this is a rather odd setup, because the headquarters unit actually is only equipped with an observation halftrack, whereas armored headquarters units usually had a similar vehicle than their combat units. In total the unit had 5 light observation vehicles, 6 StuGs, and 6 light armored ammo carriers.
Note that this was an intended organization that was probably never achieved due to a lack of proper halftracks, which to a certain degree were replaced by trucks in the following layouts.
(Spielberger, Walter: Sturmgeschütze. S. 233)
(Fleischer, Wolfgang: Die deutschen Sturmgeschütze 1935-1945. S. 18)

Sturmbatterie 1941 (K.St.N446)

Now, the 1941 version was quite similar, a major change was the addition of the 7th StuG in the headquarters unit. Furthermore for this unit, I have some data on men & equipment.
In total there were 5 officers, 1 official, 37 NCOs and 83 enlisted men. Additionally, 9 light machine guns, 17 trucks, 6 cars, 7 StuGs and 3 light armored ammo carries.
As you can see the early batteries were quite small with only 2 guns, this number increased throughout the war.

Sturmgeschützbatterie (mot) K.St.N.446 (1.11.1941)
(Spielberger, Walter: Sturmgeschütze. S. 236)
(Fleischer, Wolfgang: Die deutschen Sturmgeschütze 1935-1945. S. 33)

Sturmgeschützabteilung November 1942 (K.St.N. 446a)

Now, let’s take a look at the organization of an assault gun battalion from November 1942.
It consisted of a headquarters unit and 3 assault gun batteries. Each assault gun battery consisted of a headquarters unit, 3 platoons and a transport unit. Now each platoon now had 3 StuGs and each headquarters unit one Stug, now if add the multipliers, we get a total of 31 StuGs. Finally, let’s take a look at a late war unit.

Sturmgeschützbatterie (mot) (zu 10 Geschützen) – K.St.N.446a (1.11.1942)

(Fleischer, Wolfgang: Die deutschen Sturmgeschütze 1935-1945. S. 67)

Heeres-Sturmartillerie-Brigade Juni 1944 (K.St.N. 446B)

One of the latest organizations was the “Heeres-Sturmartillerie-Brigade” which means Army assault artillery brigade from 1944.
It consisted of a brigade headquarters, 3 assault gun battalions and 1 support grenadier Battery. Each of the assault gun battalions consisted of a headquarters unit,1 assault gun battery and a transport unit. Finally, the assault gun batteries consisted of 2 assault gun platoons, 1 assault howitzer platoon, an ammo column and 1 maintenance column.
Now, if you think this is overly complicated, well, you might be right or you may not be German enough. Anyway, each assault gun platoon consisted of 4 StuGs, whereas each assault howitzer platoon consisted of 4 assault howitzers. Now, let’s take a look at the whole unit. The headquarters units together consisted of 9 vehicles. Whereas the Combat platoons for each Battalion had a total of 12 vehicles. Together there were 30 assault guns and 15 assault howitzers in the brigade.
(Fleischer, Wolfgang: Die deutschen Sturmgeschütze 1935-1945. S. 105)


To summarize, the original concept for the StuG was to be a direct fire support weapon for the infantry, especially in the attack against enemy defensive position. The StuG combined mobility, firepower and protection, additionally since it was part of the artillery branch, its members were better trained in firing and also are more accustomed to support infantry units, unlike regular tank units.

Due the lack of proper tank destroyers the StuGs were used quite often as tank destroyers, for which it was also ideally suited due its strong frontal armor and low silhouette, although this was not their initially intended role. Ultimately assault gun units were also added organically to infantry divisions, but at this stage the German side was on the defense, thus the StuG was mainly used as a tank destroyer and not its original role supporting infantry in offensive operations.


Wettsein, Adrian: Sturmartillerie Geschichte einer Waffengattung (free article)

WW2 day by day – Kriegsstärkenachweissungen ” T&OE” (Homepage)

Spielgerger, Walter: Sturmgeschutz & Its Variants Amazon.com (affiliate link)

Spielberger, Walter: Sturmgeschütze. Entwicklung und Fertigung der sPak Amazon.de (affiliate link)

Fleischer, Wolfgang: Die deutschen Sturmgeschütze 1935-1945. Amazon.de (affiliate link)

Buchner, Alex: The German Infantry Handbook 1939-1945 (amazon.com affiliate link)

Buchner, Alex: Das Handbuch der deutschen Infanterie 1939-1945; Gliederung – Uniformen, Bewaffnung – Ausrüstung, Einsätze. amazon.de (affiliate)

amazon.com amazon.co.uk amazon.ca amazon.de

Disclaimer amazon.com

Bernhard Kast is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

Disclaimer amazon.co.uk

Bernhard Kast is a participant in the Amazon EU Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising programme designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.co.uk.

Disclaimer amazon.ca

Bernhard Kast is a participant in the Amazon.com.ca, Inc. Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.ca.

Disclaimer amazon.de

Bernhard Kast ist Teilnehmer des Partnerprogramms von Amazon Europe S.à.r.l. und Partner des Werbeprogramms, das zur Bereitstellung eines Mediums für Websites konzipiert wurde, mittels dessen durch die Platzierung von Werbeanzeigen und Links zu amazon.de Werbekostenerstattung verdient werden können.

German Tank Division (1939) – Organization and Structure – Visualization


Below is the Script to video, note that this is not an article and is probably not really meaningful without the video.

Intro – Distribution of Men

A German Tank division in 1939 consisted of about 12000 men. 3000 of them were assigned to the Tank Brigade, 3200 to the motorized infantry brigade and 1200 to the artillery regiment.
The remaining 5600 were assigned to supply, recon, engineering, anti-tank, signaling and staff units.

Tank Brigade – Intended Composition

Now let’s take a look at the composition of the tank brigade. It consisted of 90 Panzer II, 162 Panzer III, 60 Panzer IV and 12 Panzerbefehlswagen – a command tank. Hence, a total number of 324 tanks. But this was the intended composition. So let’s take a look at actual composition.

Tank Brigade – Historical Composition for the 1st Tank Division – “1. Panzer Division”

These are the numbers for the “Erste Panzer Division” the First tank division. It had 93 Panzer I, a tank never intended for combat and only armed with machine guns. 122 Panzer II, a mere 26 Panzer III, 56 Panzer IV and 12 Panzerbefehlswagen. Thus, giving a total of 309 tanks, slightly below the intended size, but numbers without context are like most politicians, quite useless and untrustworthy.

Comparison Intended vs. Historical Setup

On the left side the intended setup, with a lot of Panzer III, which was back in 1939 the main battle tank of the German Army. Yet on the others side we have a lot of Panzer I, a tank never intended to see combat. But the Panzer I needed to fill most the ranks of the missing Panzer III. Also the Panzer II was no proper substitute for the Panzer III or Panzer IV in terms of combat performance.

Now, a closer look on the planned organization and structure of the Panzer formations.

Structure of the Tank Brigade – Panzer Brigade

The Tank brigade consisted of 2 regiments with 2 battalions each and each of these battalions consisted of a staff company, two light companies and a medium company.
The “Stabskompanie” or Staff Company, consisted of a Signaling Platoon with two Panzerbefehlswagen and a Panzer III. Note that the Panzerbefehlswagen looks like a Panzer III, but it only had a fake gun and turret was welded to the hull. Yet, it was crucial to the performance of the German Panzer units, because it provided important command & control facilities.
Furthermore, the company had one platoon of light tanks consisting of 5 Panzer II.

Light Tank Company – “Leichte Panzerkompanie”

So let’s take a look at the two light tank Companies or “Leichte Panzerkompanie”.
They consisted of a Company Section with two Panzer III. A Light platoon with 5 Panzer II and three platoons of 5 Panzer III each.

Medium Tank Company – “Mittlere Panzerkompanie”

Finally, the Medium Tank Company or “Mittlere Panzerkompanie”.
The Company section with two Panzer IV and the light platoon with Panzer IIs are almost identical to the light companies. But the three platoons all consist of 4 tanks each instead of 5 tanks.
Time to take a look at the big picture again.

Brigade and Battalion View

These companies made up one battalion with 71 tanks. Thus with 4 battalions for the Brigade there is a total of 284 tanks for frontline duty, since some tanks were kept for reserve and command duties.
Now, again this was the intended setup, the number of available Panzer III was very low, thus their roles needed to be filled by other tanks like the Panzer I and Panzer II.

Complete View

So far for the tank brigade, time to take a look at the division as a whole again. Since the tank brigade was supported by an infantry brigade,
90 armored cars, 48 anti-tank guns, 12 anti-air guns and 24 pieces of artillery. Which was a quite considerable amount of equipment

Notes & References

(1) The number of tanks for 1939 in the 1. Panzer Division is from Jentz p. 90 (see sources).
(2) The Numbers of men is according to Müller-Hillebrand S. 163 (see sources) and Niehorster (see sources).

Notes on accuracies:
(1) This is the „ideal/planned“ layout of German Panzer Division in World War 2 as orderd for the 1. Panzer Division. With the Kriegsstärkenachweisungen (K. St. N.) 1103 (Sd), 1194 (Sd), 1168 (Sd), 1107 (Sd), 1171 (Sd), 1175 (Sd), 1178 (Sd) from the 1st September 1939, due to the war and a general lack of tanks on the German side the division probably never reached this setup, especially since the Panzer Division got restructured again and again. From 1939 to 1941 the number of tanks in a Panzer Division decreased by almost 50 %.
(2) Furthermore, the types of armored cars represented in the video is simplified. I know there were around 90 armored cars (Niehorster link) in the division, but I could only determine the exact types and numbers for 56 of those 90. They were Sdkfz 221, Sdkfz 222, Sdkfz 223, Sdkfz 231, Sdkfz 232, Sdkfz 274, Sdkfz 260, Sdkfz 261, Sdkfz 263.



Müller-Hillebrand, Burkhart: Das Heer – Band 1 – 1933-1939 (S. 163: IV. Panzerdivision)

Jentz, Thomas: Panzertruppen – The Complete Guide to the Creation & Combat Employment of Germanys Tank Force 1933-1942
Jentz, Thomas: Die deutsche Panzertruppe, Bd.1, 1933-1942

amazon.com amazon.de

Amazon Associates Program: “Bernhard Kast is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.”

Amazon Partner (amazon.de): “Bernhard Kast ist Teilnehmer des Partnerprogramms von Amazon Europe S.à r.l. und Partner des Werbeprogramms, das zur Bereitstellung eines Mediums für Websites konzipiert wurde, mittels dessen durch die Platzierung von Werbeanzeigen und Links zu Amazon.de Werbekostenerstattung verdient werden kann.”


1st Panzer Division In accordance with the 1939/40 Mobilization Plan

This homepage is from the author of this book (series):
Mechanized Army Division and Waffen SS Units – 1st September 1939 (German World War II Organizational Series)

amazon.com amazon.de

The First German Tank – The A7V Sturmpanzerwagen

Crew Layout of the Sturmpanzerwagen A7V the first German Tank
Crew Layout of the Sturmpanzerwagen A7V the first German Tank – 1,920px × 1,176px


The A7V or “Sturmpanzerwagen A7V” was the first German Tank and saw action in the later stages of the First World War. The rather unusual name of the tank was directly derived from a transport department in the war ministry, notably the department 7. (Abteilung 7 Verkehrswesen) (S. 54/2). The A7V was not only the first German tank, it was also the first fully-tracked built vehicle in Germany itself.

In total only 23 were built, 2 of them prototypes, one with a wooden superstructure and one with armor plates. 1 radio variant (S. 76) and 2 production runs with 10 tanks each. Now these low numbers are important to consider if someone makes any assessment about it, because the tank gained a very bad reputation that doesn’t seem to be justified, but more on that later.

Tanks in World War I

Tanks in World War I were quite primitive and a completely new technology. A tank was basically a slowly moving pillbox with guns due to the limits in mobility, reliability, range, doctrine and command capabilities. Tanks were first and foremost an infantry support weapon and even after various technological improvements and years later this was still a common view until the successes of German Panzer Forces in early stages of World War II.


The development of the A7V involved 13 companies and the production 20 due to the complexity of a tank compared to other weapon systems.(S. 14 / 2) The rather fast development of 11 months could only be achieved due to the fact that a large amount of components were already available in the various industries.(S. 15 / 1) The weapons were standard equipment, the armor plates were similar to those used on warships. Yet, the available engines weren’t sufficient in terms of horse power, thus a twin engine plant of production-ready engines was used.


Although the tank was developed quite fast, the overall process of development and production was not straightforward at all. After the initial appearance of Allied tanks on the Battlefield in 1916 the German High Command was convinced of the tank as an important weapon. Yet, this view changed, after the following limited success of the Allied tanks. This restricted the development and production of German tanks and the allocation of resources. Especially since the highest priority was given to submarine warfare. Yet, after the success of British tanks at the Battle of Cambrai in 1917, the German High Command (in end of 1917 (November)) pushed again for the introduction of German tanks. Yet, instead of pouring all resources in the A7V project, many new projects were started that didn’t reach a sufficient production readiness before the end of the war. The change in requirements, resource shortages, changing priorities, shifting interests and the usual bureaucracy delayed ultimately the production of the A7V in significant numbers. (S. 60 & 61) Although it should be noted that even a larger number of these wouldn’t made a difference in the outcome of the war due to the lack of fuel and other crucial resources.

Technical Specifications

Now let’s take a look at some technical specifications:
In this case, I had a great and detailed source co-written by German historians and engineers, which you can clearly see, because the provided the values in millimeters, because everyone knows centimeters or even meters aren’t precise enough when you are German and dealing with the measurements of a 30 ton tank.
The length was 7.35 m (7350 mm) with a width of 3.06 m (3060mm) and height of3.35m (3350 mm). The ground clearance was 0.2 m (200 mm) and a track width of 2.115 m (2115mm). This is especially interesting or crazy, because the tanks were not of identical construction.
It could traverse trenches up to 2 m in width, cross water at a depth of 0.8 m. Climb a vertical obstacle of up to 0.4 m and a climb a slope at 25 degree.
The maximum achieved speed was 16 km / h.
With two fuel tanks each with 250 liters, it had a range of about 30 to 35 km cross country and 60 to 70 km on roads.

Weight of the vehicle with fuel was 16 tons
The weight of the armor was 8.5 tons.
The weapons with ammo made up 3.5 tons.
And the crew with equipment another 2 tons, thus a total weight of 30 tons.
You probably gonna wonder, why you need about 2 tons for the crew and their equipment. Well, that is because the A7V had a crew of just about 16 to 26 men. In comparison a British Mark V tank had about 8 men.

Weapons & Armor

In terms of protection it had a frontal armor of 30 mm, at the side and rear the armor plates had a thickness of 15mm. The top plates were 6mm thick. In comparison the British Mark V had a maximum frontal armor of 16 mm.
The armament consisted of a 57mm Maxim-Nordenfelt gun which was mounted in the front and two 08/15 machine guns for each side and the rear. A large amount of amount of ammo was carried, initially 180 rounds for the 57mm gun, this value was later increased to around 300. The number of MG rounds was about 18 000. Take these values as broad guide lines, because there was a certain lack of standardization, which will be even more apparent when looking at the crew layout. Also note, that the seats are marked read here, because the ammo was stored in those seats.

Crew Layout

According to Uwe Böhm the primary sources provide different values for the total number of crew members ranging from 16 to 26 men. He provides the following base layout:

  • 1 Commander
  • 1 Assistant (Gefechtsordonnanz)
  • 1 Driver
  • 1 Mechanic/technician – trained as a driver (reserve)
  • 1 Mechanic
  • 1 Gun Commander (Geschützführer)
  • 1 Gunner
  • 1 Loader
  • 12 MG Gunners
  • 1-2 Runners
  • 1 Blinker / Signaler
  • 1 Homing Pigeon Handler

Imagine that beast in War Thunder with the Last Man Standing option, it would be almost unkillable if you don’t load any ammo.

Success or Failure – Bad Reputation

The A7V has a very bad reputation, the question is if this reputation is justified at all. Now, it had many problems and was quite unreliable, but to make a reasonable evaluation of it’s quality we need to take into account several factors.

1) The A7V was the first tank and also the first fully-tracked vehicle that Germany ever produced.
2) The development process was performed in 11 months. (S. 144)
3) At the start of the development there were no captured enemy tanks available.
4) The production environment in Germany at the end of the war was everything but suitable to manufacture a complex and new design, due to a lack of qualified labor and resource shortages.
5) There was a total of 23 A7Vs including prototypes, in comparison both the French and British built more than 1000 tanks each.

Calling the A7V a failure is as justified as calling the Tiger I a great tank in both instances only a few factors are considered. When it comes to the Tiger a lot of people completely ignore the reliability issues, yet it was designed and produced under better circumstances and far greater numbers than the A7V. The design flaws of the Tiger are hard to justify, because it was far from being the first German tank and many of the flaws weren’t addressed successfully in its considerable longer operational history than that of the A7V.
Thus, my conclusion is that the A7V wasn’t a bad tank design as many people claim.

Yet, it’s suitability for the realities of the Western Front and how it performed on the battlefield will be part of a future video, which will allow a more holistic assessment of its overall effectiveness as a military vehicle.



Sturmpanzerwagen A7V – Vom Urpanzer zum Kampfpanzer Leopard 2 – Ein Beitrag zur Militär- und Technikgeschichte

amazon.de (affiliate link)

amazon.com (affiliate link)

amazon.com amazon.de

Amazon Associates Program: “Bernhard Kast is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.”

Amazon Partner (amazon.de): “Bernhard Kast ist Teilnehmer des Partnerprogramms von Amazon Europe S.à r.l. und Partner des Werbeprogramms, das zur Bereitstellung eines Mediums für Websites konzipiert wurde, mittels dessen durch die Platzierung von Werbeanzeigen und Links zu Amazon.de Werbekostenerstattung verdient werden kann.”


Tank Museum Video on the A7V

Beware of Wikipedia articles, I corrected some values already, but I guess there may still some errors left:
Wikipedia article on the A7V (beware of errors)

Tanks Encyclopedia – Mark V

Notes on Accuracy & “Methodology”

I used the tank encylclopdia articles for references values on the Mark V tanks armour. Due to several errors in the Wikipedia articles of the A7V, encountered and corrected several errors on the A7V values.