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thunderkiller96's guide to... the Panzer III J1/L/M


Welcome to the Panzer III J1/L/M, comrades!

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Introduction

 

This is my third vehicle guide for War Thunder, and this time, I will be covering how to correctly use one of the more obscure German tanks of World War II: the Panzer III.

The Panzer III is not a tank for the faint of heart. If you want something easy to pick up and use effectively, I heavily suggest you grind out the Panzer IV tank line or give the Marders and/or the StuG IIIs a try. In combat, the Panzer III can fare well if used properly, but engage the wrong enemy and you’ll be in a world of *expletive removed*. Despite its’ challenges, the Panzer III family can be quite a nice change from the (somewhat overpowered) Panzer IVs if you manage to use them correctly and fare well in combat.

This tank guide focuses on the later model Panzer III tanks, particularly the Ausf. J1, L and M variants, but tactics learnt here can be applied to some extent on earlier variants as well.

NOTE – all content in this guide applies primarily to Realistic Battles (RB), although it can be adapted to Arcade Battles (AB) or Simulator Battles (SB) if need be

 

Update notes

Spoiler

Update 1 - 13 January 2018

  • Added how-to-fight information for French tanks (new for patch 1.75)

 

A little history…

Spoiler

The Panzer III was developed during the mid-1930s as a successor to the interim Panzer I and Panzer II tanks, taking lessons learnt from these two tank development programmes into consideration. Development of the Panzer III was conducted by Daimler-Benz to a specification issued by the German Army on 11 January 1934, calling for a “Zugführerwagen” (literally “command vehicle” – Germany was still at the time bound by Versailles Treaty articles forbidding tank development) weighing no more than 24 tonnes (53,000 lbs) and capable of a 35 km/h (22 mph) top speed. After a three-year development period, the Panzer III’s early variants entered production during 1937. Series production of the tank began on 27 September 1939 by a variety of manufacturers: Daimler-Benz, MAN and Henschel all built examples of the tank, alongside various other smaller manufacturers in Germany. Like its bigger brother the Panzer IV, the Panzer III, in a variety of variants and sub-variants, would remain in production for the entirety of the war – from the early days of the war in Poland and France, to the final defence of the Reich in April/May 1945.

 

The Panzer III was designed according to German pre-war armoured doctrine, which was heavily adapted from (or similar to) British ideas on how tanks should be used in combat. Two differing trains of thought would be filled by two tanks: the Panzer III would be the high-mobility, anti-armour tank (akin to tank destroyers such as the M10 GMC and M18 Hellcat in the United States Army, or cruiser tanks in the British Army), while the Panzer IV would be designed for infantry support, although it could fight tanks if needed (cf. M4 Sherman, British infantry tanks (i.e. Matilda II, Churchill), KV/IS tank families). Consequently, the Panzer III was fitted with a primarily anti-armour gun, while the Panzer IV got a low-velocity, short-barrel 75 millimetre gun designed primarily for infantry support. Additionally, the Panzer III lacked smoke grenade launchers in most variants' equipment loadouts (the Ausf. M was the most common variant with smoke grenade launchers fitted), while the Panzer IV was for most of its production run fitted with launchers for smoke grenades.

 

Several variants of the Panzer III were produced over its long production life. Early variants were fitted with the 37-millimetre KwK 36 anti-tank gun as a commonality attempt (at the time the KwK 36 was the standard-issue AT gun in the German Army), but the Panzer III was designed with a large turret mantlet to fit a 50 mm gun should one be needed in future, which eventually came in the form of the KwK 38 fitted to the Ausf. F variant onwards. The Ausf. J1 variant onwards utilised the long-barrel KwK 39 (still 50 mm), and the final variant, the Ausf. N, utilised a 75 millimetre short-barrel KwK 37 gun (as fitted to early Panzer IVs) for infantry support. Like most German armoured vehicles the Panzer III chassis was also used for other applications, most notably as the chassis for the Sturmgeschutz III self-propelled gun vehicle.

 

As the Panzer III (and the Panzer IV) was still in pre-series production when World War II broke out, it was only available in limited numbers for the Polish campaign, which was conducted primarily using the older Panzer I/II tanks as well as captured Panzer 35/38(t)s. In France, the Panzer III fared well thanks to excellent air-ground coordination and superior tactics against the disorganised Allied armies, but could not easily disperse French and British heavy tanks in said theatre. The tank became a primary workhorse for German armoured units in North Africa (alongside the Panzer IV of course) and was an even match for Crusader cruiser tanks and early M4 Sherman variants; it also played a role in early German successes on the Eastern Front, but from 1942 onwards began to struggle against newer Allied armoured vehicle types being introduced.

 

The long-barrel Panzer IIIs (the focus of this guide) entered service starting with the Ausführung (model) J1 series tanks in December 1941. Mechanically and armour-wise, the J1s were the outgoing J variant but up-gunned to use the long-barrel KwK 39L/60 50 millimetre tank gun. The Ausf. J, in both short and long gun variants, would become the dominant variant of the Panzer III, seeing use in North Africa and on the Eastern Front. The Ausführung L, produced from March 1942 until October 1942, added 20 millimetres of stand-off armour to the frontal hull and armour plates, but was still a far cry from the dramatically improved armour protection fitted to the Panzer IV around the same time. The last variant of the 50 mm Panzer III, the Ausführung M (September 1942 – March 1943), added Schürzen side-armour skirts to deflect anti-tank rifle and bazooka fire, and the ability to fire smoke grenades; unlike the Panzer IV, the Panzer IIIs never received Zimmerit paste to deflect magnetic anti-tank mines, which the Germans erroneously assumed would be in heavy use by the Allied armies.

As Germany found itself on the defensive, and as the Panzer III in its late-production form could not fight the T-34 or KV-1/KV-2 tanks on an equal footing, tank development began to centre on improving and standardising on the Panzer IV (which had a much more capable 75 mm gun) pending entry into service of the newer Panther and Tiger I tanks, and the Panzer III eventually lost favour with Army generals and tankers alike.

 

Panzer III production largely ended during 1943, but the chassis continued to be manufactured in order to supplement Sturmgeschutz III production. Limited numbers of the tank were still in service on the Western Front in the closing months of the war, although Panzer IVs and Panthers were found in much greater numbers within France and the Low Countries (the Tiger I and II were at times a very rare sight on the Western Front, most being deployed in the East).

 

 

TANK SPECIFICATIONS (Panzer III L, source: English Wikipedia):

Length – 5.56 metres (18 feet, 3 inches)
Width – 2.90 metres (9 feet, 6 inches)
Height – 2.5 metres (8 feet, 2 inches)
Crew – 5 (commander, gunner, loader, driver, radio operator, bow MG gunner)
Weight: 23 tonnes (25.4 short tons)

 

Engine: 12-cylinder Maybach HL 120 TRM petrol engine, 300 PS (220 kW) at 3000 rpm
Transmission: ZF SSG 77 6-speed manual w/ reverse
Armour: 50 millimetres all-around, with 20 mm standoff armour on frontal turret and hull plates
Armament: 50 millimetre KwK 39 cannon
Maximum speed: ~40 km/h (25 mph), 20 km/h (12 mph)

Pros and Cons

Spoiler

Pros:

·         Mobility: The Panzer III in all its variants is a bit more agile than the Panzer IV in manoeuvre combat. And this was an intended outcome; German pre-war armoured doctrine gave the Panzer III the anti-armour job, and the Panzer IV the infantry support job (akin to how anti-armour work was delegated to TDs and infantry support to Shermans in the US army). The Panzer III is capable of 40 km/h on most surfaces and is a bit quicker off the mark, although there are very few situations where the tank will be capable of hitting its advertised top speed of 53 km/h; sixth gear is very long and the Panzer III will struggle to gain any speed there (note: the late model Panzer IIIs are only about 100 kg lighter than the Panzer IV F2 and use the same powerplant).

·         (Somewhat) Better concealment: The Panzer III is not as tall and long as the Panzer IV, allowing it to be considerably less of an easy target compared to its big brother. It is still an average-size target but concealment is a bit easier to do with this shorter, smaller vehicle.

·         A faster firing gun: Thanks to the smaller 50 mm gun found on most models, the Panzer III enjoys a rather quick firing gun, by medium tank standards. The long-barrel KwK 39 fitted to the Pz III J1 onwards can reload an astonishing 2.8 seconds faster than the KwK 40 fitted to late production Panzer IVs; this can make or break some tank combat scenarios where seconds matter, but obviously the long 50 does not enjoy the sheer firepower that the long 75 Pz IVs have.

·         Battle rating: The long-50 Panzer IIIs’ battle rating of 3.0 (J1) to 3.3 (L, M) is a fairly good fit, even though their guns can be a bit disappointing. Most foes at its BR can be dealt with one way or another, but there are a fair few difficult targets that they will face in their BR bracket, most notably T-34s, early KV tanks, and Churchills.

Cons:

·         Weak armament: All variants of the Panzer III suffer from the same problem: armament that is weak. The long-barrel 50 mm is a hit and miss gun for a variety of reasons. It is adequate against most medium tanks at its tier, particularly if you aim for side armour or turret weakspots, but it lacks penetration against strong spots of most of its foes; it will have trouble penetrating the turret armour of both Cromwells (though it will easily OHKO or cripple most cruiser tanks if you aim for their hull armour), the sloped frontal armour of T-34s, T-50s (the T-34’s little light tank brother) and Shermans, and the frontal armour of M10s and Achilles. It also struggles badly against heavy tanks – particularly KV tanks, which will easily eat the Panzer III for breakfast, lunch and dinner combined with their powerful armament.

The long-barrel Panzer IIIs do get APCR rounds – but everyone knows that APCR only works effectively against flat or 90 degree angle surfaces, and even then, APCR’s effectiveness can be no better than APHE at times. Despite this, with some patience and smarts, APCR can be used to overcome tricker foes – even the fearsome KV-1s and KV-2s – if you aim in the right spot and play smart. (Most KV-family tanks, as well as Churchills, have very flat armour profiles, so a well-aimed shot at their turret will most likely KO their gunners – giving you time to reload and go for another shot at them – or it will ammo rack them, which will in most cases give you the kill and a chance to brag about killing a heavy tank with the mediocre German 50 mm gun.)

·         Armour: The Panzer III is lightly armoured for its BR bracket. Shermans and both Cromwells have much thicker turret armour, and the T-34’s armour – despite nominally being 5 mm less thick than that of the Panzer III J1 (12 mm less than the L and M models) – is quite difficult to penetrate with light armament due to the insane frontal sloping that is a design trademark of said tank family. The Panzer III L, M and N variants receive an extra 20 mm of standoff armour on top of the frontal turret and hull armour plates, which is of some use, but overall these tanks are still well and truly outmatched by the thick 80 mm of armour that the later model Panzer IVs (G/H/J/Befehlswagen) have available. Despite this the Panzer III L and M both are capable of soaking up a considerable heap of punishment from their foes, like their better-armoured Panzer IV brothers.

How to deal with your opponents: what will I face in my Panzer III J1/L/M?

Spoiler

At 3.3, the Panzer III will see a variety of early and mid-war Allied opponents. Most of these opponents can be dealt with, but knowing how to prepare for and/or avoid combat with certain tricker targets is important in this tank!

·         United States

o   Shermans: The long 50 Panzer IIIs are pretty much an equal match for the early Shermans in terms of capabilities. Although it will have problems penetrating the frontal armour or turret of the M4, APHE will have no issue penetrating the side of the M4’s hull; APCR will also work but can be less effective against cast-hull Shermans. The M4 is not a difficult target to disperse, but keep in mind the 75 mm armed Shermans can still be a deadly force to be reckoned with, especially if your opponent gets a clear shot at your side armour!

In uptiers you may run into the heavily-armoured Jumbo Sherman - avoid if you can due to its very heavy armour.

o   Stuarts: The Stuart family can be easily countered using this tank, but keep in mind that late war 37 mm shells will penetrate the armour of this tank, and their mobility and concealment opportunities will make them difficult targets at times, especially if their tankers are actually competent. The M5A4 gets add-on armour, which can make dealing with them a bit more complicated (particularly in the turret area).

o   M24: These come in both traditional freedom flavour, as well as oriental JSDF flavour. As with the Stuart these tanks can be easily dispersed with a good hull shot using APHE, but their turret armour is actually adequate for a light tank and mobility is no laughing matter with these agile, scout-oriented armoured vehicles.

o   M10: Be wary of these tanks. If you see a hull-down M10, chances are you won’t be able to do jack crap against them frontally, as their frontal armour is quite competent against most stuff they face in their BR bracket. Also, keep in mind that the M7 gun fitted to the M10 is basically the 76 mm Sherman’s gun, but less modernised. Those things will rip through most German armour like butter, and their muzzle velocity is actually good, meaning a competent player will be able to get decent sniper kills.

·         UK

o   Cromwells: Armour-wise, Cromwells are not a hard target to deal with. The main thing to look out for with them are their strong turrets, and their rocket-like mobility for a 3.0 – 3.3 BR tank. A good shot through the driver’s viewport up front or through most of their hull armour will almost always guarantee a OHKO kill or, in a worst case scenario, cripple most of the tank’s crew. Solid shot 6-pounder and 75 mm shells haven’t been a very potent weapon for most of their existence in War Thunder, but the 6-pounder particularly will yield good results against German armour if the tanker driving the tank knows where to aim for.

o   Crusaders: Not a very big threat – their armour is Stuart-class in terms of protection – but the Mk III and AA variants can be a handful if the tanker driving it knows what he/she is doing.

o   Achilles: The Achilles is probably the biggest threat to a Panzer III in terms of offensive firepower, mainly due to its mighty QF 17-pounder cannon. The 17-pounder will easily delet Panzer IIIs in one shot – so if you see a hull-down Achilles, run. See M10 for battle strategy advice, but beware Western TDs either way – it can be quite tricky to distinguish a M10 from an Achilles.

o   Infantry Tanks (Matilda II/Churchill/Valentine): British infantry tanks can be a handful for late-model Panzer IIIs. The Matilda for the most part cannot be penetrated except in a few weak areas by 37 – 50 mm class weapons, requiring heavy use of APCR – the small turret is the major weakspot with the Matilda, as well as the frontal driver viewport. Likewise, the Churchill has very thick armour in most places; however, the Churchill is a bit easier to disperse on account of its flat armour. APCR through the frontal hull armour is key to success, but keep in mind the Mk III Churchill (which is the main variant you’ll see in most matches) does get a (slightly) better version of the 6-pounder, which will slice through Panzer armour in weakspots.

The other main infantry tank encountered within the long 50 Panzer IIIs’ BR range is the Valentine, which comes in three variants: Mk I (2-pounder armed), Mk XI (OQF 75 mm) and Mk VI (6-pounder). Unlike the heavily armoured Matilda, the Valentine has bigger weakspots: aim for the front of the hull, or its small turret, and the Valentine becomes pretty much a sitting duck at 3.3, primarily due to its slow speed and mobility.

·         Soviet Union

o   T-34s: The Panzer III J1/L/M will face most of the early T-34 stable: those with the mediocre L-11 gun, those with the Bias-Approved™ Model F-34 gun (both 76 mm), and – in uptiers – the T-34/57, which will have no problem slicing through the Panzer III with its ZiS-3 gun. As an opponent, the T-34 pretty much is a Panzer III’s worst nightmare. The KwK 40 will have much difficulty penetrating the sloped frontal armour, and APCR does negligible damage due to most of the tank having armour in a 45 degree slope. Avoid these tanks at any cost unless it is not possible to, or if you are in a squad situation.

o   T-50: Basically the little brother of the T-34, fitted with the 20-K 45 mm gun and sloped armour. Unlike the T-34’s armour, the T-50’s armour is easier to penetrate, although like its big brother it will shrug off APHE up front.

o   KVs: These are a Panzer III’s second-worst nightmare, feared by many medium tank crews alike due to their seemingly impenetrable and thick armour. Most of the turret armour will shrug off APHE, requiring careful use of APCR in order to disperse these tanks. Aim for the tender side armour, or, if possible, the flat portions of its turret, as a good shot through there will either (a) KO the gunner, allowing you to ready a second shot, or (b) ammo rack it, giving you a kill in the process. Nonetheless, avoid these tanks if possible. Novice tankers have many problems with these tanks, then complain that the Panzer III is weak and needs a downtier.

o   ASU-57: These little SPGs can be a royal pain when used correctly due to their decent mobility and firepower. However, they are quite brittle and can easily be dispersed by a single APHE shot or even shooting their crew with your MG.

·         Japan

Tactics for Japanese tanks at 2.3 – 4.3 BR are summarised into one easy category: avoid the turret and aim for the lower frontal hull or sides. The frontal armour on Chi-Nus and Chi-Tos can be quite tanky at times.

 

·         France

           o   Char B1: Basically the French Matilda II: heavily armoured (especially the premium ter variant), with poor mobility and a gun that is hopeless in an uptier. Like most early French tanks its Achilles heel is its one-man turret; consequently, it will take longer to reload its gun, which still nonetheless will struggle to disperse certain 3.3 BR foes that it may face. Aim for the turret first and take out the commander (it's its main weakspot), then aim for the driver - doing so should first cripple the tank, then kill it.

           o   Shermans: See US Sherman for battle strategy regarding the M4A1. Beware of the later Shermans however - both have very potent anti-tank armament that will slice through a Panzer III easily. Avoid later Shermans at any cost unless it is not possible to, or if you are in a squad situation.

           o   AMX-13: Early AMX-13s with the FL-11 gun can be a tricky foe due to their mobility, but their early gun can be a bit lacking in penetration. Not too tricky of a light tank to kill, but beware of competent tankers.

           o   ARL 44: In an uptier, you'll most likely run into an early 75 mm armed ARL 44. Despite its deadly gun it can be an RP/SL pinata due to its very mediocre hull armour - a well placed frontal or side shot with either the standard PzGr shell or APCR should easily disperse it.

 

 

 

 

 

Conclusion

The Panzer III J1/L/M are all very interesting tanks to drive in their part of the German tech tree. They don’t have the best gun around, they don’t have over 50 mm of armour and they can’t fight T-34s and KVs without difficulty. However, once you know how to use these tanks properly, they can be a very useful partner in 3.0 – 3.3 bracket matches or in grinding the late-model Panzer IVs and beyond.

Thanks for reading this guide, and good luck with future endeavours driving the Panzer III J1/L/M!

Edited by thunderkiller96
added how-to-fight data for French tanks
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1 hour ago, Quasimodo91 said:

good info :salute: i mostly only used Pz III N and its a blast due to fast firing gun and 100mm pen HEAT shell.

Yup, that is one of the big strengths of the late Panzer IIIs, their guns might be considerably worse in performance but they make up for it with much better reload... and better concealment.

To be fair every now and then if I have a good match I can rack up a fair few kills in one game. Just recently I managed to pull off a hat-trick 8-kill RB match in the Pz III L, though I think I may have ran into one of the many typical inexperienced Allied teams of that BR bracket :p:

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@thunderkiller96 Great info here! Thank you for the guide. (Might help me a bit too!)

 

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Patch 1.75 landed a couple weeks after I first made this guide, so I've updated it with some brief information on how to combat French Shermans, Char B1s, early AMX-13s and the early ARL 44 :salute::yes_yes_yes:

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How can you call Panzer III an "obscure" tank? :beee:

 

It was the workhorse of German army in the early stages of war with Soviet Russia.

 

Besides, it's small and sexy :DD

 

On the more serious side - many thanks for this guide and I hope there will be more coming up soon. I really want to dive into Ground Forces and I'm looking for the helpful resources out there!

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On 18/01/2018 at 1:50 AM, tenshin111 said:

How can you call Panzer III an "obscure" tank? :beee:

 

It was the workhorse of German army in the early stages of war with Soviet Russia.

 

Besides, it's small and sexy :DD

 

On the more serious side - many thanks for this guide and I hope there will be more coming up soon. I really want to dive into Ground Forces and I'm looking for the helpful resources out there!

By obscure I meant underrated - every German tank fanatic tends to fawn over Panzer IVs or Tigers or Panthers rather than Panzer IIIs :P

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The long-barreled Pz III variants can kill T-34s, KVs and Shermans frontally, but you need to have a good aim and there is really no room for mistakes, which is why flanking for sideshots is the recommended option. Out of the three I think the T-34 is the easiest one to face as the turret cheeks are not that hard to pen at close to medium ranges.

Other than problems with heavy and sloped armor, these are very comfortable tanks to drive and shoot with.

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