StuG III, StuH and StuG IV 

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'Anti-tank defence will devolve more and more on the assault guns, since all our other anti-tank weapons are becoming increasingly ineffective against the new enemy equipment. All divisions on the main battlefronts, therefore, need to be supplied with a certain complement of these weapons; the secondary fronts will have to make do with a higher command reserve of assault guns. In order to economise on personnel and material, a gradual amalgamation of the assault gun battalions and tank destroyer battalions is necessary.'

General Heinz Guderian, in his book Panzer Leader

In view of their experiences in WW I the German Army demanded some mobile form of armored artillery which could accompany and support the infantry. The vehicle should be able to eliminate strong points and other obstacles by direct fire, notably during the period in a battle when the conventional supporting artillery was otherwise engaged or could not be brought into action due to moving up. The vehicle should be armed with a 77mm gun on a maneuverable fully-tracked vehicle, with vehicle and weapon partly protected by armor. These attempts were halted in 1932 because other plans for motorizing the Army seemed more pressing. 

A memorandum submitted in 1935 to General Beck, the Chief of General Staff, by Colonel Erich von Manstein, suggested to revive the concept of the infantry Begleitbatterien (escort batteries). He indicated the need for an armored self-propelled gun to work under infantry control, the tactical employment and the nature of the weapon itself: "Assault artillery fights as escort artillery within the framework of the infantry. It does not attack like the tank, does not break through, but carries the attack of the infantry forward by quickly eliminating the most dangerous objectives through direct fire. It does not fight in large numbers like the tank units, but is normally employed at platoon strength. The platoon, or even the individual gun, makes a surprise appearance in and then quickly vanishes before it can become a target for enemy artillery. The gun must be able to take enemy machinegun emplacements out of action with a few rounds. It must also be able to knock out enemy tanks; in comparison to them it has inferior armor, but a superior ability to observe and shoot first." 

A prototype vehicle of the "O" series
with two round access hatches in the nose
A StuG III Ausf. A in Holland, 1940, 
with the initial drive sprocket and rear idler
Five prototype vehicles were built in 1937, mounting the same short-barreled 75mm L/24 howitzer fitted to the PzKpfw IV in a limited traverse mounting on the modified chassis of the PzKpfw III Ausf. B. Constructed of soft steel, these vehicles of the "O" series were unsuitable for combat but helped developing the initial production version, the StuG III Ausf. A. The nomenclature adopted was a blend of the parent tank and the gun which was mounted (e.g. StuG III mit 7.5cm Kanone, implying a modified PzKpfw III chassis with a 75mm gun). The chassis nose plates, gun mantlet and frontal armor of the superstructure were 50mm thick, which was sufficient protection against the antitank guns of that time. The gunner's sight required a small opening in the front plate, and the fan-shaped cutout in front of the opening had bullet deflectors to deflect bullets and fragments. Production started in 1940 and 30 vehicles were made before the campaign in the west in 1940. They performed successfully in Holland and France, destroying pill-boxes, machinegun nests and antitank guns. 

The assault guns were crewed by artillerymen, since the infantry had difficulties with the necessary technical and logistic infrastructure to maintain the guns in the field, while the Panzertruppen were afraid of interference with tank production. The crew consisted of the commander (called a Geschützführer, or gun leader), a loader, the gunner and a driver. Their uniforms, although cut in the style of the Panzerbesatzungen (tank crews), were German fieldgrey, not black. Their branch colour was the red of the artillery. During initial gunnery trials the assault gun crews performed better than their tank counterparts, being quicker onto the target and using less ammunition to destroy it. 

A StuG III Ausf B with old drive sprocket and rear idler
A StuG III Ausf B with wider tracks
In the autumn of 1940 an improved chassis with replaced transmission and engine resulted in the Ausf. B. During production of the Ausf. B the 36cm wide track was replaced by a 40cm wide track, making it necessary to fit new drive sprockets and rear idlers. Early 1941 the Ausf. C was introduced, later followed by the Ausf. D which had some internal changes. The Ausf. C and D had an altered superstructure with a single or binocular gunner's sight now mounted in the roof, eliminating the weak point in the frontal armor. The front, side and driver's roof plates were improved to a more effective shape. 

Introduced one year after the Ausf. B, the last short-barreled version was the Ausf. E which had an altered superstructure. This version was to be used as a command vehicle as the SdKfz 253 observation vehicle was no longer included with the StuG units. The angled side plates were removed, and a second armored pannier box was placed on the right side, while the left pannier was lengthened. These boxes contained extra radio equipment and extra ammunition rounds. A command vehicle mounting the additional radios can be identified by the two whip antennas on the back of the superstructure. 

StuG III Ausf. D of StuG Abt. 189
Ausf. E with vertical side wall
Of the short-barreled StuG III Ausf. B, C, D and E, 320, 50, 150 and 272 were made, respectively.  The StuG III was the most common Sturmgeschütz design, being little more than a tank with a fixed gun of limited traverse instead of a turret. It was slower and less maneuverable than a tank but was suited particularly well for attacking enemy infantry, heavy weapons and main points of restistance. The vehicle was found to be easier to use from concealed positions because of its lower silhouette. It was less complex, less expensive to build and had almost the same performance as a tank, and for this reason the manufacture of assault guns increased until more were being made than tanks. For the hard-fighting infantry, the Sturmgeschütz were often the last rescue in an emergency while confronting increasing numbers of enemy units.

To StuG page II
To StuG page II