Monday 19 June 2023

Assault Gun with Field Improvements

The situation with German military vehicles in museums, especially Russian ones, is difficult. The treatment of German armour in many countries during the Second World War and immediately afterwards is understandable. It was decades before anyone started to think about their historical value. It's hard to blame our ancestors for this, considering what these vehicles did to them. As a result, German tanks and SPGs are very rare today. Nevertheless, they are slowly reemerging in the hands of museums and private collections thanks to restoration workshops.

A new vehicle appeared on display.

Vadim Zadorozhniy's Technical Museum is one such organization. The museum restores military vehicles of the Second World War, including German ones. Recently, the museum put a new StuG III Ausf.E on display. This is a somewhat unusual vehicle and its story is worth telling.

The StuG was rebuilt using original armour plates whenever possible.

The Sturmgeschütz assault gun became the most common German tracked fighting vehicle of the war. This only happened in the second half, when it turned out that the best anti-tank weapon was not a Marder or a similar vehicle, but a StuG. Until then, the assault guns were built in relatively small batches. The assault gun concept described a vehicle that fought in close cooperation with infantry. Erich von Manstein, the ideologue behind the StuG concept, wanted an assault gun battalion in every infantry division. Every battalion consisted of three batteries of six vehicles each. Since these vehicles were subordinate to the infantry, their crews wore different uniforms than the tankers.

Since the vehicle is intended to be made mobile, the sides of the hull tub were made anew.

Initially, the production volumes of the StuG III (often called just StuG) were humble. They were built at Daimler-Benz Werk 40, but production moved to the Alkett factory in Spandau. 184 assault guns were delivered in 1940 and 540 over the course of the following year. The StuG III Ausf.B was the core of the German assault gun fleet by the start of the Great Patriotic War, 300 of which were made. It was followed by 50 StuG Ausf.C and 150 StuG Ausf.D. There were plenty of differences. These assault guns had Pz.Kpfw.III Ausf.H-J chassis and a number of changes in the casemate. For instance, the Slf.ZF.1 sight designed especially for armoured vehicles replaced the RblF 36 artillery panoramic sight. The gun sight no longer looked out of a port, but through an opening in the roof. The StuG Ausf.C and Ausf.D were built as a part of the 3./s.Pak series, which also included 50 StuG Ausf.B.

The vehicle still lacks some external equipment.

Production of the 4th series or 4./s.Pak began in September of 1941. 500 assault guns known as the StuG III Ausf.E were ordered. There were no cardinal changes since the chassis was already upgraded for the StuG Ausf.C and Ausf.D series. The biggest change in the casemate was the enlarged bulge on the left side and introduction of a bulge on the right for a second radio. The transmission access hatches in the front were also changed. There were no other big changes.

A lot of external equipment is already installed.

The StuG III Ausf.E was unlucky. By the time these vehicles entered production, a gun more powerful than the 7.5 cm StuK L/24 was obviously needed. HEAT shells were issued by the start of 1942, but that was just a half-measure. Orders to install a more powerful gun were given in September of 1941 and production of the StuG 40 Ausf.F began in March of 1942. The number 40 refers to the new gun, the 7.5 cm StuK 40 L/43 (later L/48). Because of this, production of the StuG Ausf.E ended prematurely at 284 assault guns with chassis numbers 90751-91034.

The smaller hatch hinges are a feature of the StuG Ausf.E

The changing situation on the front affected the population of short-gunned StuGs. Their main enemy was now the T-34 tank and Soviet anti-tank units began to use the 76 mm ZIS-3 (over 8000 of these guns were issued to anti-tank units in 1942). The 50 mm thick front armour was not a significant obstacle for 76 mm AP shells. StuGs with the 7.5 cm StuK L/24 became rare by the start of 1943. Only there survive to this day. One is a StuG III Ausf.E that was recovered near St Petersburg and reappeared in Germany under mysterious circumstances.

The headlight shrouds are original. The front plate with many shell impacts can be seen at the bottom.

Two more StuGs with short barrels were recently restored. One is a static display for the Australian Armour & Artillery Museum. This is a StuG III Ausf.A, the earliest type of vehicle, restored from the fragments of a StuG belonging to the 660th Independent StuG Battery. The second is a StuG III Ausf.D. It is a well known vehicle. This StuG was one of the three StuGs used by the Africa Corps, captured at El Alamein. It survived to this day as a cut up skeleton. British restorer Jon Phillips restored it to running order using modern components.

Bore brush holder. Other assault guns either don't have this part at all or have a modern reproduction.

There is a new arrival in the StuG family. It is currently known that the vehicle was rebuilt using fragments of three destroyed StuGs. The goal was to keep as many authentic components of the exterior as possible. This is a common approach at Vadim Zadorozhniy's museum. Since the vehicles are actively used, the insides are modern, but his tanks and SPGs look as authentic as possible from the outside. This is a good approach, since 99% of the public will never look inside anyway. An original interior is preferable, but it severely limits what you can do with the tank. It's hard to find spare Maybach HL 120 engines and SSG 77 gearboxes.

Smoke grenade launcher on the rear of the hull.

In this case, the only omission was that the sides of the hull were built anew. The original sides were available, but they were in such poor condition that the vehicle would have been static. That was not in the cards. The StuG III Ausf.E is currently a static exhibit, but the plan is to make it a runner. Building new sides was a necessary compromise.

The rear Notek light is also original.

The restoration process was very thorough. Anyone who examined the museum's Pz.Kpfw.III or Pz.Kpfw.38(t) will know the degree of effort required. The vehicle has some instruments already, but this is just the first stage. The vehicle will be improved further, but it's already in an impressive state. Even the headlight shrouds are original. The approach to detail is very meticulous, since it's usually the details that spoil a restoration job.

New bulges for a radio station are a characteristic feature of the StuG III Ausf.E.

That is not the only interesting thing about this StuG. A casemate from the StuG III Ausf.E was found during restoration and installed without changes. This casemate is a mystery. It has caps welded to the sides of the casemate bulges taken from the engine deck of a Pz.Kpfw.III tank. These air intake caps are characteristic of tropical variants of the tank. One might think that they were welded on during restoration, but no, this was done by the Germans when the StuG was still in use. 

Caps from air intakes were welded on in the field.

The reason for this mod is simple. The StuG III Ausf.A-E had no proper ventilation system. Its creators must have assumed that the opening for the panoramic sight was enough to let fresh air in, and otherwise you could always open the hatches. The problem is there were plenty of reasons to keep your hatches closed, as a result of which the fighting compartment filled up with fumes when the gun was fired. An exhaust fan was only added on the StuG 40 Ausf.F.

The same modification can be seen on the other side. This bulge was added to the StuG III Ausf.E.

The air intakes were installed to improve ventilation of the fighting compartment. It's hard to say how effective this solution was, since the air still circulated passively. Either way, it was better than nothing. It's good that the restoration crew didn't cut the caps off and left the vehicle with its distinctive look. The air intakes are also an important step in the evolution of the StuG's fighting compartment.

There are no ventilation fans on the roof, hence the field mod.

The new exhibit already took its place at the Vadim Zadorozhniy Technical Museum. It can be seen in the alley between the two museum buildings. The museum's collection received several other interesting pieces recently, displayed both out in the open and inside the museum's buildings.

Original article by Yuri Pasholok.

1 comment:

  1. Are you sure there's an air vent underneath the added armour caps? Can't see it on the rear-side view.
    The caps were made of armoured steel, & other StuG units added them to the frontal glacis to increase protection.
    It might be these were added to just increase the weak 30mm side armour. Interestingly, there appear to be added 20mm armour appliques on the superstructure side (& under the caps) & the front on this AusfE, another rare modification. It must have been a 1943 vehicle