The SdKfz 161 Panzerkampfwagen IV (PzKpfw IV), commonly known as the Panzer IV, was a German medium tank developed in the late 1930s and used extensively during WW2. The Panzer IV was the most numerous German tank and the second-most numerous German armored fighting vehicle of the war, with over 8,500 built. The Panzer IV chassis was used as the base for many other fighting vehicles, including the Sturmgeschütz IV assault gun, 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.
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. A total of 8,553 Panzer IVs of all versions were built during World War Two, with only the StuG III assault-gun / tank destroyer’s 10,086 vehicle production run exceeding the Panzer IV’s total among Axis armored forces.
The Panzer IV Ausf J
Despite addressing the mobility problems introduced by the previous models, the final production version of the Panzer IV, the Ausf J, was considered a retrograde from the Ausf H. Born of necessity to replace heavy losses it was greatly simplified to speed production. The electric generator that powered the tank’s turret traverse was removed so the turret had to be rotated manually. The turret traversing mechanism was modified and fitted with a second gear which made hand-operation easier when the vehicle was on sloping terrain. The resulting space was later used for the installation of an auxiliary 200-litre fuel tank; road range was thereby increased to 320km. The remaining pistol and vision ports on the turret side hatches were removed and the engine’s radiator housing was simplified by changing the slanted sides to straight sides. In addition, the cylindrical muffler was replaced by two flame-suppressing mufflers.
On Jun 1944, German design office Waffen Prüfen 6 (Wa Prüf 6) had decided that because bomb damage at Panzerfirma Krupp in Essen had seriously jeopardized tank production, all plates which should have been face-hardened for the Panzer IV were instead made with rolled homogeneous armour plate. By late 1944 zimmerit was no longer being applied to German armored vehicles and the Panzer IV’s side-skirts had been replaced by wire mesh. A total of 1,758 Ausf J were produced before the war ended.