12 Impressive German Self-Propelled Guns of WW2

 
 
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Self-propelled guns played an important part in the Second World War, making heavy firepower mobile more cheaply than tanks did. Here are some of the self-propelled weapons fielded by Germany in the war.

Brummbar / Sturmpanzer Assault Gun

Built using the chassis of a PzKpfw IV tank, the Brummbar (Grumbler) or Sturmpanzer was a tracked version of a short-range assault gun. Its 15cm StuH 43 gun could smash through almost any obstacle.

Introduced in July 1943, it first saw action in the Battle of Kursk and went on to be used on all fronts where the Germans were fighting.

Sturmpanzer IV Brummbär. Photo: Che Haut CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Sturmpanzer IV Brummbär. Photo: Che Haut CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

 

Sturmpanzer IV Brummbar german gun. Battle of Kursk “Operation Citadel “
Sturmpanzer IV Brummbar german gun. Battle of Kursk “Operation Citadel “

Elefant Tank Destroyer

When one of Porsche’s tank designs was rejected by the German army, they found themselves with 90 chassis going spare, having produced them in a moment of over-confidence.

Rather than let them go to waste, they decided to turn these vehicles into heavy tank destroyers. The internal layout was adjusted and an 88mm gun fitted at the front.

Panzerjäger Tiger Elefant tank destroyer used by German Wehrmacht in WWII.Photo: Scott Dunham CC BY 3.0
Panzerjäger Tiger Elefant tank destroyer used by German Wehrmacht in WWII.Photo: Scott Dunham CC BY 3.0

The resulting Elefant went into battle at Kursk in 1943. But the designers had made a critical oversight in not fitting a secondary weapon. Consequently, the vehicle was very vulnerable to infantry coming from the sides and rear.

Between this and mechanical unreliability, all 90 Elefants were out of action by the start of 1945.

Heavy tank destroyer Ferdinand (named after Ferdinand Porsche, after renamed to Elefant) 624 of the “schweres Panzerjäger-Regiment 656”
Heavy tank destroyer Ferdinand (named after Ferdinand Porsche, after renamed to Elefant) 624 of the “schweres Panzerjäger-Regiment 656”

Hetzer Tank Destroyer

Built at the request of General Guderian, the Hetzer was a light tank destroyer with a low profile and good protection. It used components from the obsolete Czech TNHP tank, and when it proved successful, all TNHP facilities switched to producing Hetzers.

Jagdpanzer 38t Hetzer. Photo: Chris.w.braun CC BY-SA 3.0
Jagdpanzer 38t Hetzer. Photo: Chris.w.braun CC BY-SA 3.0

Hetzers remained in use by the Czech army after the war and were also sold to Switzerland.

Swiss Army. Tank destroyer G 13, imported 1946-7, originally German Wehrmacht Jagdpanzer 38(t) “Hetzer.”
Swiss Army. Tank destroyer G 13, imported 1946-7, originally German Wehrmacht Jagdpanzer 38(t) “Hetzer.”

Hummel Self-Propelled Gun

A late war addition, the Hummel (Bumblebee) was the closest the Germans came to self-propelled artillery rather than assault cannons. It was built using parts from the PzKpfw III and IV tanks.

Because of limited space, every group of four Hummels was accompanied by a similar vehicle without the gun, which carried their spare ammunition.

A Hummel on display at the Musée des Blindés
A Hummel on display at the Musée des Blindés

By the time the Hummel entered service in 1944, the needs of the Eastern Front had changed, so it was mostly used as an assault gun instead of in its distinctive artillery role.

A Hummel navigates a hill in central-southern Russia (June 1943).Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-219-0583A-07 Harschneck CC-BY-SA 3.0
A Hummel navigates a hill in central-southern Russia (June 1943).Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-219-0583A-07 Harschneck CC-BY-SA 3.0

Jagdpanther Tank Destroyer

First fielded in 1944, the Jagdpanther was the best tank destroyer Germany created. Combining the chassis of a Panther tank with an 88mm gun, it had a low silhouette, good armor, and a powerful gun that could be easily targeted thanks to the vehicle’s maneuverability.

Though it was in high demand, only 392 were built, as Allied bombing of factories disrupted production.

Captured Jagdpanther 328, Eastern Front
Captured Jagdpanther 328, Eastern Front

 

Jagdpanther in Northern France.Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-717-0017-12 Jesse CC-BY-SA 3.0
Jagdpanther in Northern France.Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-717-0017-12 Jesse CC-BY-SA 3.0

Jagdtiger Tank Destroyer

Another adaptation of one of Germany’s top tanks, the Jagdtiger, was far less successful than the Jagdpanther. It carried an impressive 128mm gun and was heavily armored, a combination that overloaded the engine and transmission.

Unreliability and limited mobility made it an ineffective weapon.

Jagdtiger exterior.One of only three surviving examples. Porsche variant, zimmerite applied. Photo: Kristian Thy CC BY 2.0
Jagdtiger exterior.One of only three surviving examples. Porsche variant, zimmerite applied. Photo: Kristian Thy CC BY 2.0

 

Jagdtigers assembly line in the Nibelungenwerk at St. Valentin
Jagdtigers assembly line in the Nibelungenwerk at St. Valentin

Karl Self-Propelled Guns

The largest self-propelled guns of the war, these six siege howitzers were named after General Karl Becker, Chief of Artillery Development. Each had its own name: Adam, Eva, Thor, Odin, Loki, and Ziu.

They were initially equipped with 60cm caliber barrels, though 54cm alternatives were later produced for better range.

Karl-Gerät at the Kubinka Tank Museum, Russia. Photo: Kastey CC BY-SA 4.0
Karl-Gerät at the Kubinka Tank Museum, Russia. Photo: Kastey CC BY-SA 4.0

The Karls were used during the Siege of Sebastopol in 1942 and the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 but otherwise saw little action.

Heavy mortar Karl Gerat VI Ziu Warsaw Uprising 1944 barrel and crew
Heavy mortar Karl Gerat VI Ziu Warsaw Uprising 1944 barrel and crew

 

Warsaw Uprising- Sappers disarming a dud 600 mm mortar shell, which crashed through several stories and stopped in the basement of “Adria” townhouse at Moniuszki 10 street.
Warsaw Uprising- Sappers disarming a dud 600 mm mortar shell, which crashed through several stories and stopped in the basement of “Adria” townhouse at Moniuszki 10 street.

 

600 mm Karl-Gerät “Ziu” firing in Warsaw, August 1944.
600 mm Karl-Gerät “Ziu” firing in Warsaw, August 1944.

Marder Self-Propelled Guns

The name Marder (Marten) was given to three different self-propelled guns, each based on the chassis of a different vehicle. Marder I used a French personnel carrier, Marder II the German PzKpfw II tank, and Marder III the Czech TNHP tank.

They all carried the same 75mm gun, and each was an improvement on its predecessor. Production ended in 1944, as all TNHP chassis production was committed to the Hetzer.

Marder I (driver visible). Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-297-1701-21 / Müller, Karl / CC-BY-SA 3.0
Marder I (driver visible). Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-297-1701-21 / Müller, Karl / CC-BY-SA 3.0

 

The famous Marder II “coal thief” -recognizable by the cartoon painted on both sides- on the Eastern Front in 1943. The ring markings on the barrel of the gun indicate 19 claimed kills for the vehicle. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-197-1235-15 / Henisch / CC-BY-SA 3.0
The famous Marder II “coal thief” -recognizable by the cartoon painted on both sides- on the Eastern Front in 1943. The ring markings on the barrel of the gun indicate 19 claimed kills for the vehicle. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-197-1235-15 / Henisch / CC-BY-SA 3.0

 

Marder III Ausf. M tank destroyer.Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-297-1729-23 / Kurth / CC-BY-SA 3.0
Marder III Ausf. M tank destroyer.Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-297-1729-23 / Kurth / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Panzerwerfer 42 Self-Propelled Rocket Launcher

The Nebelwerfer rocket launcher was one of Germany’s more successful weapons, but its short range and field mounting meant that its crew was vulnerable to attack. To solve this, in 1942 it was mounted on the Opel Maultier half-track truck to give it more mobility.

Once again, this proved successful, and so the launcher was redesigned, going from six to ten barrels. 300 of these vehicles were made, alongside 289 ammunition transports to accompany them.

German soldier preparing to fire a Panzerwerfer 42
German soldier preparing to fire a Panzerwerfer 42

 

15cm Panzerwerfer 42, March 1944
15cm Panzerwerfer 42, March 1944

 

15 cm Panzerwerfer 42 auf Selbstfahrlafette Sd.Kfz.4 1 winter
15 cm Panzerwerfer 42 auf Selbstfahrlafette Sd.Kfz.4 1 winter

Sturmgeschutz III Assault Gun

The most successful German self-propelled gun of the war, 7,893 Sturgmeschutz III’s (StuG IIIs) were produced and fought across Europe.

StuG in Latvia during the Baltic Operation.Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-009-0882-04 Schröter CC-BY-SA 3.0
StuG in Latvia during the Baltic Operation.Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-009-0882-04 Schröter CC-BY-SA 3.0

The StuG III was built in response to a German Army request of 1936 for a low silhouette tracked vehicle carrying a large-caliber low-velocity gun. The original design saw action in France in 1940 and proved effective enough to ensure continued production.

The StuG III was repeatedly refined over the course of the war, with changes in armor, weaponry, and other features keeping it relevant as other weapons were introduced.

Finnish StuG III Ausf. G (June, 1944)
Finnish StuG III Ausf. G (June, 1944)

Sturmmorser 38 Self-Propelled Rocket Launcher

The Sturmmorser was produced in response to a request for a large howitzer that could accompany tank advances. The Tiger chassis was chosen for the vehicle, but the weapon proved harder to find, and the designers eventually created a new 38cm rocket launcher instead of the howitzer.

A curved face in the breech block, leading to vents around the gun barrel, ingeniously reduced recoil from firing the weapon to avoid disrupting the rocket’s flight. A crane was fitted at the rear to lift in the 344kg rockets.

Sturmtiger captured by US Army (April 1945)
Sturmtiger captured by US Army (April 1945)

 

Sturmtiger in the Deutsches Panzermuseum. In the front is the main 380 mm caliber rocket-propelled projectile. Photo: Werner Willmann CC BY 2.5
Sturmtiger in the Deutsches Panzermuseum. In the front is the main 380 mm caliber rocket-propelled projectile. Photo: Werner Willmann CC BY 2.5

 

 

Sturmmörserwagen 606 4 mit 38 cm RW 61
Sturmmörserwagen 606 4 mit 38 cm RW 61

Wirbelwind Anti-Aircraft Gun

Based on a PzKpfw IV chassis, the Wirbelwind (Whirlwind) had an open-topped polygonal turret carrying four 20mm guns.

Wirbelwind, WWII German Self-Propelled four-barrelled Anti-Aircraft Gun.Photo: Skaarup.HA CC BY-SA 3.0
Wirbelwind, WWII German Self-Propelled four-barrelled Anti-Aircraft Gun.Photo: Skaarup.HA CC BY-SA 3.0

Read another story from us: King of the Battlefield: 26 Pictures of The Hummel Self-Propelled Artillery

By the time it entered the action in 1944, it was clear that these weapons lacked the range and damage to be truly effective against modern planes. However, it could put out a lot of firepower at once and Germany needed an anti-aircraft weapon.

86 were produced before manufacturers moved on to concentrate on heavier weapons.

 
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