Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf E

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The Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf E was the first mass produced version of the Panzer III, after four pre-production series. It featured a completely different suspension system, thicker armour and a more powerful engine than all of the pre-production machines, and early production was slow. As a result only 98 Panzer IIIs of all models were available to the German army at the outbreak of the Second World War, including most of the seventy five pre-production machines.

Panzer III ausf E or Ausf F in Norway
Panzer III ausf E
or Ausf F in Norway

The previous three versions of the Panzer III had featured eight small road wheels carried by two or three leaf springs. This system had proved to be unsatisfactory, and so on the Ausf E it was replaced by a completely new system. This features six larger road wheels, and used torsion bar suspension. In this type of suspension a steel bar runs across the width of the tank. One end is securely attached to the side of the tank, while the opposite end is attached to one road wheel using a lever. As the wheel moves up, the steel bar twists, absorbing the shock and smoothing the ride. Torsion bar suspension allowed the wheel to move further than the spring system used on earlier models, as well as being rugged and relatively easy to replace (see the video below for a demonstration of the torsion bar system).

The Panzer III Ausf E was the first version of the tank to definitely use 30mm armour on the front and size of the hull and all around the turret (the last 15 of the Ausf D may also have been given thicker armour). The design of the side armour was changed from the segmented plates used on the pre-production series to a single plate.

The thicker armour increased the weight of the Panzer III to over 19 tons. To compensate for this increase a more powerful Maybach HL120TR engine was used. As a result the Ausf E was just as fast as earlier lighter models. The manual gearbox of earlier models was replaced with a Maybach Variorex pre-selector box, which was more flexible but slowed down production of the Panzer III.

Other changes included the addition of escape hatches on each side of the fuselage and a vision port for the radio operator. When built the Ausf E used the same 3.7cm KwK gun as the A-D, with two 7.92mm machine guns in the turret. Between August 1940 and 1942 a number of tanks had their main gun replaced by the 5cm KwK L/42. At the same time extra armour was added to the hull front and rear and the front of the superstructure.

The Panzer III Ausf E entered service in time to take part in the fighting in Poland, and remained in use for the next three years. A number of them were later converted to act as observation vehicles, further extending their lifespan.  

Names
Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf E
Sd Kfz 141
4 Serie Zugführerwagen/ 4 Serie ZW

Stats
Number produced: 96
Produced: December 1938-October 1939
Hull Length: 5.38m/ 17ft 8in
Hull Width: 2.91m/ 9ft 7in
Height: 2.44m/ 8ft
Crew: 5 (Commander, gunner, loader, driver, radio operator)
Weight: 19.5 tons
Engine: Maybach HL120TR
Max Speed: 40km/hr/ 24mph
Max Range: 165km/ 102 miles
Armament: One 3.7cm KwK L/46.5, plus two 7.92mm MG 34 in turret and one in front of superstructure

Armour


Armour

Front

Side

Rear

Top/ Bottom

Turret

30mm/ 1.2in

30mm/ 1.2in

30mm/ 1.2in

12mm/ 0.5in

Superstructure

30mm/ 1.2in

30mm/ 1.2in

21mm/ 0.8in

17mm/ 0.66in

Hull

30mm/ 1.2in

30mm/ 1.2in

21mm/ 0.8in

16mm/ 0.62in

Gun mantlet

30mm/ 1.2in

 

 

 

Panzerkampfwagen III Medium Tank 1936-44, Bryan Perrett. A good introduction for anyone interesting in the Panzer III, this book covers the development of the tank, the structure of the German panzer forces, and its military career, which saw the Panzer III go from being the Third Reich's main battle tank to being under-gunned and under-armoured [see more] cover cover cover

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (23 April 2008), Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf E , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_panzer_III_ausf_E.html

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