The Panzerkampfwagen III or PIII was one of the pillars in the Wehrmacht's
efforts during World War II
until its replacement by the Panzerkampfwagen IV. The PIII was especially important during the early years and the Blitzkrieg
When the call was made for the design and production of the Panzerkampfwagen II, a similar request was put out for the design of a 15-ton full-tracked tank with an anti-tank gun and two machine guns that would replace the Panzerkampfwagen I and Panzerkampfwagen II. To maintain secrecy, the project was nicknamed "Zugfuhrerwagen", or platoon commander's vehicle. The original design from Daimler-Benz was accepted in 1935, but the PIII didn't make it to mass production until 1939.
Initially, the call was made by the Mechanized Troops Inspectors for a 50mm gun, but the Ordnance Department permitted a 37mm Pak L/45 to be placed. After the Blitzkrieg was ended, Adolf Hitler called for the PIII to be refitted with 50mm L/60. However, his orders were disobeyed and the PIIIs maintained their 37mm gun to speed up the production rate. After discovering his order was disobeyed, the PIII was redesigned to Ausf. J and fitted with a 50mm L/60.
The following is a list of the variations of the PIII that were produced/used, and the difference between it and its predecessor:
- Ausf. A - Built in 1937 by Daimler-Benz as the first pre-prototype. Only 10 were produced in the initial production time, some were even used in the Poland invasion.
- Ausf. B - D-B went back to the drawing board, improving the suspension, redesigning the exhaust system, and improving the driver's vision, and a new cupola for the commander was added to the design as well. Despite the improvements, only 15 were producted, some also used in the Poland invasion.
- Ausf. C - Added more leaf springs to improve suspension, and modified the steering mechanism. Again, only 15 were produced, some seen in the invasion of Poland.
- Ausf. D - More suspension work, new idlers, and new transmission was designed. The Ausf. D became the final prototype produced by Daimler-Benz. 55 were produced, and only 30 were armed. The Ausf. D made it to Poland and Norway.
- Ausf. E - First model to be produced by a company other than D-B, many changes were made. Two escape hatches were added, the driver's visor was fitted with sliding shutters for protection, the engine was boosted by 50hp, and the Ausf. E gained about 3-4 tons. Approximately 100 of these made it to the battle lines in France.
- Ausf. F - The first series of the Ausf. F nearly matched the Ausf. E, plus some cosmetic changes. However, during the latter stages of production, the Ausf. F was the first tank to receive the 50mm L/42 cannon improvement, per the orders of Adolf Hitler. 350 of the 37mm Ausf. F made it to France, and the last 100 50mm Ausf. F were produced a bit too late for the Blitzkrieg.
- Ausf. G - 30mm extra armor, a new driver's visor, an exhaust fan, and a new commander's cupola were added for the Ausf. G version. Most Ausf. Gs were produced as replacements for tanks lost in the field. Approximately 800 were made.
- Ausf. H - Turret on the Ausf. H was redesigned to allow a 50mm gun and standardized the 30mm rear armor plate. The armor increase gave the Ausf. H a 2 ton weight increase. 308 were produced
- Ausf. J - The first tank to officially receive the 50mm gun. Another new visor was added for the driver, the hull was lengthened, air intakes for brakes were added, the turret was placed on a ballmount, and the armor was again increased by 20mm on the gun mantlet and the front. Approximately 1600 of these were made
- Ausf. L - Further minor engine changes occured, gun recoil was switched from coil to torsion bar, and a new coolant system was devised. 20mm armor was added to the turret shield and the driver's plate. 1100 were produced.
- Ausf. M - A new machine gun mount was placed in the cupola for anti-aircraft defense. 775 were made, but 100 were converted to Flammpanzer IIIs.
- Ausf. N - June, 1942, the final PIII began production. A new, experimental 75mm cannon was installed on top of the Ausf. L's chassis, and the new tank was called the Ausf. N. Because of the new heavy gun, the Ausf. Ns could not receive the spaced armor that the other tanks of its generation were receiving. 663 were created, 450 from former Ausf. L models.
The PIII ceased to be produced in the middle of 1943, replaced by its older brother the Panzerkampfwagen IV. By the end of 1943, the technology and design in the PIII had become obsolete, and most PIIIs wound up being converted to mission specific craft.