Jagdpanzer 38(t) Hetzer (‘Baitor’); Panzerjäger 38(t) for 7.5cm Pak 39.
Type: Tank destroyer.
Table of Contents
Although the modifications from existing, outdated chassis like the Marder III from the Panzer 38(t) were relatively successful, there were too high and awkward vehicles, which lacked fine polish and which clearly showed all signs of the haste in which they had been designed.
In contrast, the various assault guns and self-propelled artillery guns for close support have shown their value as tanker destroyers on many occasions.
Thus, in March 1943, Colonel-General Heinz Guderian, the new Inspector General of the Panzer arm, demanded a light armored tank destroyer with adequate armor and protection at the top, rear and sides, as well as a low silhouette to replace the previous light armored self-propelled tank destroyers or towed anti-tank guns.
For the development of this vehicle the proven chassis of the Panzer 38(t) was used. The result was one of the best German tank destroyers, the Jagdpanzer 38(t) Hetzer or Panzerjäger 38(t) for 7.5cm Pak 39.
The Hetzer used the original engine, suspension and chassis of the PzKpfw 38(t) together in a new, armored superstructure that was angled at a high value to provide additional protection for the four-man crew.
The Hetzer was nevertheless a completely new design with the proven components of the PzKpfw 38(t), using a wider hull with extensive use of angled armor. However, the narrow combat space for four men and the limited traverse of the gun caused problems during combat.
The armament consisted of the usual 7.5-cm Pak 39, adapted for the vehicle, together with a roof-mounted machine gun for self-defense, which could also be operated from the inside of the combat compartment.
After testing, in December 1943 it was ordered to use all production capacities of the chassis of the PzKpfw 38(t) for this new tank destroyer. Series production started in April 1944 at BMM in Prague and Skoda followed in September 1944. Factories in Pilsen, Königgrätz (Bohemia) and Breslau were also involved. These production plants soon worked under high pressure, as the Hetzer quickly turned out to be a successful combination of armament and chassis.
It was small and flat, yet very well protected and had good off-road driving characteristics. The cannon was able to knock-out all enemy tanks, even the heaviest ones. On the other hand, the Hetzer was difficult to knock-out in battles because it was so small that it was practically invisible to the enemy gunners and the heavily angled front armor could not be penetrated by most Allied guns.
The first combat units received the Hetzer in July 1944. They were the Panzerjäger (tank destroyer) detachments 731 and 743, as well as the tank destroyer units of the 15th and 76th Infantry Division. Subsequently, the new tank destroyer was issued to Panzerjäger detachments at all possible formations.
Calls for more and more of these vehicles came from the units at the front, so that until the end of 1944 all available chassis of the PzKpfw 38(t) were only used for the construction of the Hetzer. Production continued until the last factories were overrun in May 1945. By this time at least 2,584 Hetzer had been built.
It was originally intended to move as quickly as possible to rigidly mounted guns, but this was postponed in early 1944 and then again in November 1944. For May 1945, the final deadline was set for the installation of the rigid Pak 39/1 and the 10.5-cm howitzer 42, but the end of the war prevented this change.
Several versions of the Hetzer had been produced. Among them was a flame thrower, the Flammpanzer 38(t), and an armored recovery vehicle version, the Bergepanzer 38(t).
But the history of the Hetzer was not over with the end of the war in May 1945. It didn’t take long and the production of the Hetzer was resumed, this time for the new Czechoslovak army. In 1946 the Swiss army even bought 158 Hetzer from Czechoslovakia, which were delivered from 1947 to 1952. The Swiss vehicles had however a new engine with 160 HP. With the Swiss army the Hetzer were still in service until the 1970s.
During the war the Hetzer were also used for a number of experiments with the installation of different weapons. This went so far that at one time cannons were installed directly into the front armor without a recoil mechanism and this concept actually worked.
One prototype was a howitzer with the 15 cm infantry gun and there were several similar projects, but none of them were ready for series production, as the existing production facilities were fully loaded with the output of the standard tank destroyer model.
Today the Hetzer is regarded as one of the best of all German tank destroyers, because it was a powerful, small vehicle, which was much more economical to build than many of the larger vehicles. Although it was only armed with a 75 mm cannon, this tank destroyer could knock out almost any enemy tank it was likely to encounter, and was just a little higher than a standing man.
Animated 3D model tank destroyer Hetzer
Flammpanzer 38(t) Hetzer
During his planning for the Ardennes offensive, it was discovered that some flame thrower tanks were needed. Twenty 38(t) tank destroyers were rebuilt for this task in December 1944 by installing a flamethrower instead of the normal 7.5cm Pak 39. 700 liters of flammable liquid were carried. The consumption allowed fire bursts of up to 87.5 seconds, but the number of fire bursts was limited by the number of starter cartridges. The range was between 50 and 60 meters.
The flame tank 38(t) was identical to the standard Hetzer, except for the small funnel-shaped cover for the flame thrower.
The vehicles were used by special units during the Battle of the Bulge, a number of which were captured and photographed by the Allies, giving the vehicle more popularity than the small number actually earned.
Bergepanzer 38(t) Hetzer
The Hetzer 38(t) armored recovery vehicle was developed for units equipped with the new tank destroyer to accompany and, if necessary, rescue Hetzers. A report from August 1944 stated that one armored recovery vehicle would be built for every 14 Jagdpanzer Hetzer, but by September 1944 only seven were in use. In October this deficiency was made up by the fact that 64 Hetzer, which had been retained from the production of June and July, were converted into armored recovery vehicles. From December 1944 the regular production took place.
The armored recovery vehicle open at the top was also an ideal vehicle for further conversions and although the number of different Wehrmacht armored vehicles was to be considerably reduced, special requests came from the front troops. That is why the officially introduced 15 cm sIG33 on self-propelled gun carriage Jagdpanzer Hetzer was developed from a recovery tank and photographs also show an anti-aircraft tank with 2-cm anti-aircraft gun 38. In 1945 the ‘Vollkettenaufklärer 38’ (‘Full track reconnaissance vehicle 38’), armed with the short 7.5-cm K51 L/24 on a recovery tank chassis, was also in the experimental stage.
The 38(t) armored recovery vehicle was based on the Hetzer, but the superstructure was lower and open at the top. The front plate had not been broken open and in the combat area there was a winch and a reed ram.
From October 1944 the total of 106 built and 64 rebuilt 38(t) Hetzer armored recovery vehicles were added to the Panzerjäger detachments, which were equipped with the Hetzer.
15cm Schweres Infanteriegeschütz 33/2 (Sf) auf Hetzer
The few last chassis PzKpfw 38(t) Ausf M were completed as 15 cm sIG33/2 in August 1944, but the need for a self-propelled gun with the 15 cm sIG33 was still present. This became the subject of a meeting between Hitler and Minister of Armaments, Speer, in October 1944. By November, it was decided that a new self-propelled gun, based on the components of the Jagdpanzer 38(t) Hetzer, would be designed to carry the 15 cm sIG33.
Based on the superstructure of the 38(t) armored recovery vehicle, with an additional raised superstructure around the sIG33, the same installation and shield was used as in previous versions of self-propelled guns with this gun.
The 15 cm Heavy Infantry Gun 33/2 (Sf) on Jagdpanzer 38(t), rebuilt from December 1944 from 6 armored recovery vehicles and 24 newly built 15 cm heavy infantry guns, was used as a replacement for the heavy infantry gun companies of the armored infantry regiments equipped with armored infantry fighting vehicles.
Jagdpanzer 38(t) Starr
The original decision of December 1943 to start production of the Jagdpanzer 38(t) Hetzer was taken on the basis that it would be built with a rigid mounted cannon. In early 1943, Rheinmetall had demonstrated the feasibility of this idea by installing a Russian 12-cm mortar in an old chassis of a PzKpfw II.
The company Alkett continued this development with a rigid 7.5cm Pak 39 in the Jagdpanzer IV and also designed an installation for the Jagdpanzer 38(t).
However, difficulties with the installation of the sighting devices and hardly operable handwheels led to a postponement of the production with the rigid cannon and the construction of the Jagdpanzer 38(t) Hetzer with the recoiling 7.5cm Pak 39/1 was temporarily continued.
Until November 1944 there was still hardly any progress achieved with various proposed solutions and the normal Hetzer remained in production.
Now Rheinmetall again took over development with the order to present a standard solution as quickly as possible. The final design of the weapon installation and the display units was sent to Prague at the beginning of April 1945, where a decision was made to take over full production on April 20, 1945. The development success achieved by Rheinmetall led to the start of construction of a prototype of the Jagdpanzer 38(t) Hetzer with a 10.5-cm Sturmhaubitze 42, which was to be installed in ten percent of all chassis produced with rigid armament.
The Jagdpanzer 38(t) Starr had the same characteristics as the original Hetzer, but the rigid cannon had to be moved a little more into the middle of the vehicle. The smaller ball head mounting allowed this displacement and led to a stronger front armor plate, since only a smaller opening was necessary.
The new arrangement of the cannon reduced the weight at the nose and also the total weight of the tank destroyer to 14 tons. Serial vehicles were to be equipped with a height stabilizer and a coaxial machine gun was to be installed as soon as it was available, which was developed for the 38(d) tank destroyer.
Only ten pre-series vehicles were completed by the end of the war and series production was to commence in May 1945.
The long-term planning of the German tank production planned that the chassis of the Panzer IV should be replaced by the combined chassis PzKpfw III/IV, as it was used e.g. for the Sturmgeschuetz 40 assault guns and Jagdpanzer IV tank destroyer series, by mid-1945. In addition many changes were to be made in the construction of the vehicles.
However, in autumn 1944 it was decided to also stop the construction of the PzKpfw III/IV chassis and Hitler ordered that all capacities freed up by this be used for the construction of the 38(t) and 38(d) tank destroyer chassis. The Jagdpanzer 38(t), the original Czech model, was to continue to be built as a Hetzer, some of them with the new rigid cannon and some as they were already in production. The 38(t) should also be used as the basis for a new reconnaissance vehicle.
The Jagdpanzer 38(d) was a slightly larger, revised version, which differed mainly in that the 220 hp Tatra diesel engine with air cooling and a new propulsion system was used. The superstructure was also angled at 60 degrees like the Hetzer, but the armor thickness was 80 mm instead of 60 mm, resulting in a total weight of 16 tons.
This revised vehicle was able to be armed with the long 7.5cm Pak 42/1 (L/70), either with a recoil device or rigid, allowing it to replace the Pz IV/70. However, the 7.5cm Pak 39 (L/48) and 10.5cm StuH42/2 could also be used as alternative armament, making the Jagdpanzer 38(d) also a replacement for the assault guns.
The production of the Jagdpanzer 38(d) was to be carried out by all German manufacturers involved in the construction program of the PzKpfw IV and StuG III, while BMM and Skoda were to continue building the Jagdpanzer 38(t) Hetzer.
However, only prototypes were finished until the end of the war. From mid-1945 it was planned to build 1,250 Jagdpanzer 38(d) per month at Alkett, Vomag, Krupp-Gruson, MIAG and Nibelungenwerke. At Alkett also 125 StuH42 were to be produced monthly.
In contrast to the Czech version, the 38(d) was also intended to serve as a chassis for a replacement for the Flak-Panzer (anti-aircraft tank) Kugelblitz, if no new chassis of the PzKpfw IV were available. A wooden model was still finished and allows the conclusion that this new anti-aircraft tank should have a smaller turret than the PzKpfw IV version. The development of the turret allowed the installation of two 2 cm fast fire cannons in addition to the 3 cm MK 103, which could be operated by one man of the crew.
The hydraulic rotation and height direction was carried out at a speed of 45° degrees per second and the rotation could be 360° degrees, with a elevation of -5 to +70° degrees. 1,200 rounds of 3-cm and 1,000 rounds of 2-cm ammunition were carried along.
For this anti-aircraft tank there were two versions: the Ausf. Protectorate and Ausf. Reich. The only difference between them was the fuselage construction.
Animated 3D model tank destroyer E-25
The tank destroyer E-25 was similar to the Hetzer, but armed with the 7.5cm L/70 cannon and weighing between 25 and 30 tons. A HL230 engine and the Panther tank‘s suspension were used and five prototypes were under construction at Alkett at the end of the war.
User Hetzer versions: Wehrmacht (Czechoslovakia and Switzerland after the 2nd World War).
Specifications Jagdpanzer 38(t) Hetzer
|Specification||Jagdpanzer 38(t) Hetzer|
|Type||light tank destroyer|
|Engine||Praga AC/2800 with 160 hp at 2,800 rpm|
|Gearbox||5 forward, 1 reverse|
|Length (over all)||20 ft 4.1 in (6.20 m)|
|Width||8 ft 2.4 in (2.50 m)|
|Height||6 ft 10.7 in (2.10 m)|
|Weight||31,967 lb (14,500 kg)|
|Maximum road speed||26 mph (42 km/hr)|
|Fuel consumption per 100 km||120 liters on road; 180 liters cross-country|
|Road radius||135 - 160 miles (217-260 km)|
|Cross-country radius||105 - 110 miles (170-177 km)|
|Vertical obstacle||27.6in (0.70 m)|
|Trench crossing||4.6 ft (1.40 m)|
|Fording depth||3.28 ft (1.00 m)|
|Turning circle||16.4 ft (5.00 m)|
|Gun mantlet||60||Saukopfblende (round)|
Armament and Equipment:
|Jagdpanzer 38(t) Hetzer||Specification|
|Main armament||7.5 cm Pak 39 L/48|
|Traverse||-5° to +11° (by hand)|
|Elevation||-6° to +12°|
|Muzzle velocity Pzgr39||2,592 ft/sec (790 m/sec)|
|Muzzle velocity Pzgr40||3,248 ft/sec (990 m/sec)|
|Shell weight Pzgr39||15 lb (6.80 kg)|
|Shell weight Pzgr40||9.05 lb (4.10 kg)|
|Maximum fire range||?|
|Secondary armament||1 x 7.92mm MG34 or MG42 on the roof with 360° traverse (1,200 rounds)|
|Radio||FuG5 (4 km range) and FuG Spr f|
Penetration mm at 30° armor plates of the gun:
|100 meters||106 mm||143 mm|
|500 meters||96 mm||120 mm|
|1,000 meters||85 mm||97 mm|
|1,500 meters||74 mm||77 mm|
|2,000 meters||64 mm||-|
|Production||April 1944 - May 1945|
|Price per tank||?|
|Total production figure||2,584|
Service statistics for tank destroyer Hetzer PLUS Jagdpanzer IV (7.5cm L/48)
|1945||1,478 (1.1.)||832 (Jan+Feb)||216 (Jan)|
|Total||-||3,189 (until Feb 45)||560 (until Jan 45)|
Video of the ‘Hetzer’ in action with computer games
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References and literature
The Encyclopedia of Weapons of World War II (Chris Bishop)
Kraftfahrzeuge und Panzer der Reichswehr, Wehrmacht und Bundeswehr (Werner Oswald)
Encyclopedia of German Tanks of World War Two (P.Chamberlain, H.L.Doyle)
Panzer und andere Kampffahrzeuge von 1916 bis heute (Christopher F. Foss, John F. Milsom, Colonel John Stafford Weeks, Captain Georffrey Tillotson, Richard M. Ogorkiewicz)
Panzerkampfwagen des 1. und 2. Weltkrieges (Andrew Kershaw)
Krieg der Panzer (Piekalkiewicz)