All about Hetzer…
JPz 38(t) in museum at CFB Borden in Ontario, Canada
|Type||Light tank destroyer|
|Place of origin||Nazi Germany|
|Used by||Nazi Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Sweden, Switzerland|
|Wars||World War II|
|Manufacturer||Böhmisch-Mährische Maschinenfabrik, Škoda|
|Produced||March 1944–May 1945|
|Number built||Approx. 2827|
|Weight||15.75 tonnes (34,722 lbs)|
|Length||6.38 m (21 ft)|
|Width||2.63 m (8.62 ft)|
|Height||2.17 m (7.11 ft)|
|Armor||8-60 mm (.31-2.36 in)|
|1x 7.5 cm PaK 39 L/48
|1× 7.92 mm Maschinengewehr 34
|Engine||petrol R6, 7.8 liters
160 hp (120 kW) at 2800 rpm
|177 km (110 mi)|
|Speed||42 km/h (26 mph)|
The Jagdpanzer 38(t) (Sd.Kfz. 138/2), later known as Hetzer („baiter”), was a German light tank destroyer of the Second World War based on a modified pre-war Czechoslovakian Panzer 38(t) chassis.
The name „Hetzer” was at the time not commonly used for this vehicle. It was the designation for a related prototype, the E-10. The Škoda factory for a very short period confused the two names in its documentation and the very first unit equipped with the vehicle thus for a few weeks applied the incorrect name until matters were cleared. However, there exists a memorandum from Heinz Guderian to Hitler incorrectly claiming that an unofficial name, Hetzer, had spontaneously been coined by the troops. Post-war historians basing themselves on this statement made the name popular in their works. It was never the official name like the other animal names were.
The Jagdpanzer 38(t) was intended to be more cost-effective than the much more ambitious Jagdpanther and Jagdtiger designs of the same period. Using a proven chassis, it avoided the mechanical problems of the larger armoured vehicles.
It was better armored than the earlier Panzerjäger Marder and Nashorn with a sloped armour front plate of 60 mm sloped back at 60 degrees from the vertical (equivalent in protection to about 120 mm), carried a reasonably powerful gun, was mechanically reliable and small and easily concealed. It was also cheap to build. Its main failings were the cramped working condition of the crew, the very limited gun traverse, and poor visibility from the commander’s station.
The Jagdpanzer 38(t) succeeded the Marder III (based on the same chassis) in production from April 1944; about 2584 were built until the end of the war. The older Marder III Panzerjager series retained the same vertically-sided chassis as Panzer 38(t). In the hetzer, the lower hull sides slope slightly to increase the available interior space and enable a fully-enclosed fighting compartment. Because of the fully enclosed armor, it was 5 tons heavier than the Marder III. To compensate for the increased weight, track shoe width was increased from 293 mm to 350 mm.
The Hetzer equipped the Panzerjägerabteilungen (tank destroyer battalions) of the infantry divisions, giving them some limited mobile anti-armor capability. After the war Czechoslovakia continued to build the type and exported 158 vehicles to Switzerland. Most vehicles in today’s collections are of Swiss origin.
By order of Adolf Hitler in November 1944, a number of Jagdpanzer 38(t)s were refurbished straight from the factory with a Keobe flamethrower and accompanying equipment instead of the normal gun. The flame projector was encased in a metal shield reminiscent of that of a gun barrel, and easily prone to damage. Less than 50 of these vehicles, designated Flammpanzer 38, were completed before the end of the war, but they were used operationally against Allied forces on the Western Front.
Further variants were a Hetzer carrying the 150 mm sIG33/2 Howitzer, of which 30 were produced before the end of the war, and the Bergepanzer 38(t)Hetzer, a light recovery vehicle of which 106 were produced. Plans were made to produce other variants, including an assault gun version of the Hetzer carrying a 105 mm main cannon, and an anti-aircraft variant mounted with a flak turret. The war ended before these proposed models were put into production.
The Jagdpanzer 38(t) fit into the lighter category of German tank destroyers that began with the Panzerjäger I, continued with the Marder series and ended with the Jagdpanzer 38(t). The (the 75 mm gun fitted on the Jagdpanzer 38 (t) was a modified the 75 mm Pak 39 L/48 very similar to the late Panzer IV marks) 75 mm kwk 40 L/48 could destroy nearly all allied tanks in service at long ranges and its fully-enclosed armor protection made it a safer vehicle to crew than the Marder II or Marder III series.
The Jagdpanzer 38(t) was one of the most common late-war German tank destroyers. It was available in relatively large numbers and was generally mechanically reliable. Also, its small size made it easier to conceal than higher vehicles.
The Jagdpanzer 38(t)’s weaknesses were its very limited gun traverse, poor internal ergonomics and poor visibility. The gun traverse was so limited the entire vehicle sometimes needed to be turned to track a fast-moving target. The gun was designed to be loaded from the right but was also placed on the far right of the vehicle, making operation difficult for the gunner and loader and leading to a lower rate of fire than would be ideal. The confines of the vehicle were also very cramped with four men squeezed into the small machine. The commander sat far back in the vehicle, with a flat roof to his front and without a cupola. Thus his visibility was limited when the vehicle was even slightly elevated in front, for example, in a classic hull-down position. Some versions attempted to alleviate the space problem by removing the recoil-absorbing mechanism for the gun, though at the cost of forcing the vehicle itself to absorb the recoil.
Like some other late-war German SPGs, the Hetzer mounted a remote-control machine gun mount which could be fired from within the vehicle. However, to reload the crew needed to expose themselves to enemy fire.