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Panzer IV with winterketten

History:

      The Panzerkampfwagen IV (PzKpfw IV), commonly known as the Panzer IV, was a German medium tank developed in the late 1930s and used extensively during the Second World War. Its ordnance inventory designation was Sd.Kfz. 161.
Panzer IV Ausf H restored
      The Panzer IV was the most numerous German tank and the second-most numerous German armored fighting vehicle of the WWII, with some 8,500 built. The Panzer IV chassis was used as the base for many other fighting vehicles, including the Sturmgeschütz IV assault gun, the Jagdpanzer IV tank destroyer, the Wirbelwind self-propelled anti-aircraft gun, and the Brummbär self-propelled gun.
      The Panzer IV saw service in all combat theaters involving Germany and was the only German tank to remain in continuous production throughout the war. It received various upgrades and design modifications, intended to counter new threats, extending its service life. Generally, these involved increasing the Panzer IV’s armor protection or upgrading its weapons, although during the last months of the war, with Germany’s pressing need for rapid replacement of losses, design changes also included simplifications to speed up the manufacturing process.

Pz IV Ausf H with schürzen only in the right side
Russian front – 1943.
     The Panzer IV was partially succeeded by the Panther medium tank, which was introduced to counter the Soviet T-34, although the Panzer IV continued as a significant component of German armoured formations to the end of the war.

About 8,553 Panzer IVs of all versions were built during World War II, a production run in Axis forces only exceeded by the StuG III assault gun with 10,086 vehicles.

     To learn more about the Panzer IV and its variants, I recommend reading this more complete article, here at Panzerserra Bunker.
      The main character of this article will be Panzer IV Ausf H, wearing the special tracks winterketten. This combination was requested by the customer who ordered this model, so let’s learn a little more about this particular model and these special tracks. Because of the use of winterketten, which were much wider than normal tracks, the vehicle was unable to use the additional armor skirts (schürzen). This is the justification for the joke with pinup, at the beginning of the article …

Panzer IV Ausf H:
As we had seen it before, the Panzerkampfwagen IV was the most important German tank during the WWII. It remained in mass production throughout the war. and with some 8,000 units produced, it represented more than one-third of Germany’s entire wartime tank production. As the backbone of the German Armored Divisions, the name “workhorse” cannot be considered an exaggeration. The Pz.Kpfw. IV underwent constant improvement throughout its long career, and Ausf. H is generally regarded as the definitive model, with respect to both performance and produced number: 3.774 units outnumbered any other variant.

Panzer IV Ausf H roaring across the Russian steppes in the winter of 1943.
Notice the additional spaced armor on the turret’s front roof, added in the field

The Ausf.H is roughly classified into the early, mid and late production versions, and the early H model had a close relationship with the preceding late production “G” model. Both versions used identical suspension system and wheels. Weapons consisted of a powerful, efficient, long-barreled KwK40 L/48 tank gun plus two 7.92mm MG34 machine guns (coaxial and bow front hull). Thin steel plates known as “Schürzen” (skirts) were introduced on the Ausf.G, and succeeded the Ausf.H. These skirts increased the vehicle safety, especially against hollow-load projectiles from American Bazookas and British PIATs.

Panzer IV Ausf H with zimmerit
12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend
France – 1944

The Maybach HL120TRM engine also remained the same, but an improved SSG-77 transmission was coupled on the Ausf.H. However. the extra weight of some 1.5 tons. due to added armor and increased ammunition. lowered its top speed to 38km/h, which proved 2km/h slower than the G.  The Ausf.H was mass produced from April 1943 to July 1944.

Special tracks:
      For this project, my client requested the use of special Winterketten tracks, instead of the normal 400mm wide tracks of the Panzer IV Ausf. H. Let’s take a look at this interesting detail.
Standard Panzer III and IV tracks
      Winterketten tracks were developed in 1942 for use in winter conditions on the Eastern Front. These were basically a normal track with links with extensions that protruded from the ends of the tracks and used a standard length track link pin. These are recognizable by the long triangular extensions. These were usually found on the PzKpfw III, PzKpfw IV, StuG III and StuG IV, but could also be seen on Hummel, Nashorn and other vehicles with Panzer IV type suspensions.

Panzers III with winterketten in heavy snow
Eastern Front – 1943

Some tracks segments show a special ice cleat segment was could be added for extra grip on ice.

Two views of Winterketten links
The track is much wider than normal tracks…
      The winterketten tracks greatly increased the tank’s “flotation” capacity, in snow and muddy terrain, but they also generated a greater effort in the transmissions. As the tracks were very wide, the driver had to drive the tank with care, as a sudden driving could cause breaks in the tracks or even damage to the tank’s transmission.
Panzer IV with Winterketten, of Pz.Rgt.27
Lyssytchansk area winter 1943, and side car from Lehr-Regiment 901.
Panzer IV number 533 wearing Winterketten
Russian front – Winter 1943
A Pz IV Ausf G passing by a horse-drawn vehicle.
Notice that the width of the tracks prevents the use of skirts (schürzen)and a complete suspension bogie in the fron glacis
Russian front – 1943
New shoes for heavy Panzers IV…
Winterketten ready for action!!

      Ostketten tracks were developed later in the War, in 1944, for use in the muddy conditions in the Spring and Autumn on the Eastern Front, the terrible Rasputitsa, but it was also suitable for ice and snow conditions.

Two views of Ostketten links
The track is much wider than normal tracks,
but narrower than the Winterketten.
      These were basically a wider link track than the usual link which was fitted, but not as wide as the Winterketten. There were no triangular extensions or ice cleats, just a wider portion of the link and also used a standard length track link pin.

A StuG IV with ostketten tracks and schürzen

These were for use usually on the PzKpfw IV, StuG III and StyG IV (as you can see here, in Bunker…) but could also be found on other vehicles. When seen on the PzKpfw IV it looks like a PzKpfw V Panther track on a PzKpfw IV…

Panzer IV Ausf. H with ostketten.
Notice the skirts in place…
Panzer IV Ausf. H with ostketten
Notice the skirts in place…
All aboard!!
      The larger surface area of the tracks lowered the total ground pressure of the tank and allowed the tank to move over muddy ground without getting stuck in the mud.
Incredibly, Ostketten’s performance in the mud was considered superior to that of Winterketten, as Rasputitsa “stuck” too much to winterketten’s “wings”, forcing the tank’s transmission to the limit …

Panzer III attempting to recover a Panzer II bogged down
in the Russian Rasputitsa or vice versa… You choose!!
    The Rasputitsa refers to the biannual mud seasons when unpaved roads become difficult to traverse in parts of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine. The word may be translated as the “quagmire season” because during this period the large flatlands become extremely muddy and marshy, as do most unpaved roads. The term applies to both the “spring rasputitsa” and “autumn rasputitsa” and to the condition of the roads during those seasons.

Wheeled vehicles in the Rasputitsa
Wehrmacht soldiers pulling a Horch from the mud, November 1941

The Rasputitsa occurs more strongly in the spring due to the melting snow but it usually recurs in the fall due to frequent heavy rains. See below in this film the dreadful conditions that the German drivers faced in the Eastern Front …

Many confuse Winterketten with Ostketten. In addition to the size, that winterketten is much larger, a detail that differentiates them more quickly is that the winterketten extents (the wings) appear to be thinner and more fragile, almost exaggerated in their length. The Ostketten seem to be better proportioned.

Active faces (in contact with the ground) view of the two special tracks.
Winterketten are was wider but Ostketten was more robust…

 

Internal faces (in contact with the wheels) view of the two special tracks.
Winterketten are was wider but Ostketten was more robust!
Vehicles that were seen using the special tracks:
  • Panzer III SdKfz 143
  • Sturmgeschütz III SdKfz 142
  • Sturmhaubitze 42, Sd.Kfz 142/2
  • Sturm-Infanteriegeschütz 33B
  • Panzer IV SdKfz 161
  • Jagdpanzer IV SdKfz 162
  • Sturmgeschütz IV SdKfz 167
  • Sturmpanzer IV Brummbär SdKfz 166
  • Heuschrecke Sd.Kfz. 165/1
  • Dicker Max
  • Hummel SdKfz 165
  • Nashorn SdKfz 164
Panzer IV Ausf H in the Russian front
Notice the absence of schürzen and she’s wearing large tracks…
A burnt Panzer IV Ausf H from  III. SS-Panzerkorps in the Leningrad sector
after the Krasnoye Selo-Ropsha offensive, end of January 1944 –  Russian Front.
Notice the winterketten tracks and the absence of schürzen
My model will be in this configuration…


Specs:

Panzerkampfwagen IV Ausf H – SdKfz 161/2
Type Medium tank
Place of origin Nazi Germany
Service history
In service June 1943–1945 (Nazi Germany)
Used by Nazi Germany
Wars World War II
Production history
Designer Krupp
Designed 1936
Manufacturer Krupp, Vomag, Nibelungenwerk
Produced April 1943 to July 1944
No. built ≈3.774
Specifications (Pz IV Ausf H, 1943)
Mass 25.0 tonnes
Length 5.92 metres
7.02 metres gun forward
Width 2.88 m
Height 2.68 m
Crew 5 (commander, gunner, loader, driver, radio operator/bow machine-gunner)

Armor Hull front: 80mm – 14°
Hull side: 30mm – 0°
Hull rear: 20mm – 8°
Hull roof and floor: 10mm
Schürzen: 5mm to 8mm
Turret front: 50mm – 10°
Turret side: 30mm – 10°
Turret rear: 30mm – 15°
Turret roof: 15mm – 84 to 90°
Main armament
7.5 cm KwK 40 L/48 main gun (87 rounds) ;  -8° to +20°
Sec. armament
2 × 7.92 mm MG 34 machine guns (3,150 rounds)
Engine Maybach HL120 TRM 12-cylinder gasoline engine
300 PS (296 hp, 220 kW)
Power/weight 12 PS (8.8 kW) / tonne
Transmission (Synchromesh ZF SSG 77) 6 forward and 1 reverse ratios
Suspension Leaf spring
Fuel capacity 470 l
Operational range
200 km
Maximum speed 38 to 42 km/h maximum
25 km/h max sustained road speed 16 km/h off road
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