"Devil wears Praga" - a 38t Praga TD branch proposal
recently, an attempt to re-work the current German TD branches has been published on the EU forums. I did not like it - too many fantasy designs (including the usual suspects, such as the "Krokodil") and it was generally just mashing up for the sake of mashup. Well, here's a thought: a lot of people asked thru the months, how would the leicht Waffeträgers (Ardelt, Ardelt-Krupp, Ardelt-Steyr) fit into World of Tanks. Well, I think I found a proper way. Surprisingly, thru the hull/suspension.
The famous LT-38 light tank (known as Panzer 38t) evolved from the basic Praga TNH variant, which in turn, was built around the Praga TN engine (TNH means TN - housenkový: 'tracked'). This is not the place to describe its journey, but from the basic TNH, meant for export to Iran, the Panzer 38t would eventually evolve. The LT-38 was a great tank, judged by many (including Mr. H.Doyle) to be one of the best pre-war light tanks in the world, surpassing the Panzer I and Panzer II light tanks completely. When Czechoslovakia surrendered to Hitler after the western powers betrayed it during the Munich conference, a number of those vehicles, intended for the Czechoslovak army, was captured and later used by Germans to fight in Poland, France and against Soviet Union. But it was just a light tank - its armor and armament couldn't keep up with the enemy medium and heavy designs of 1941/1942. One part never got old though - the suspension. Simply put, it was great. It was valued by the Germans greatly and became the basis for whole series of various vehicles, from recovery vehicles over tank destroyers to self-propelled guns. In late 1944, a decision was even made in connection with phasing out of the Panzer IV production, only 3 platforms will be manufactured in 1945: the Tiger platform, the Panther platform and the 38d platform. But we'll get to that.
Basically, here's a tank destroyer branch proposal based on the 38t/d suspension. Let's look at it.
Changes in the original branch
Before we can start building a new branch, we have to modify the old one a bit. The old branch has something we need: the Hetzer, built on the 38t chassis. That's why I suggest the following:
- remove the Hetzer from the branch
- replace the tier 4 tank destroyer slot with the historical StuG III. Ingame StuG III has 80mm frontal armor and an unhistorical gun (the L/70). Regarding the gun - the latest StuG III version manufactured (the Ausf.G) had the StuK 40 L/48. There was a proposal project to arm the StuG with the L/70, designated Ausf.H (as far as I know), but that never reached a prototype stage. So, give the StuG its historical early version armor (50mm front), its historical gun (L/48), it would make a nice T4.
- put the StuG IV on tier 5. Well, here we'd have to improvise a bit. StuG IV has enough armor for T5 (80mm front), but it still carries the L/48. Basically, a StuG IV with L/70 mounted was renamed to Jagdpanzer IV, but I think we can still work with that.
Alternatively, we can put the StuG III Ausf. H project on T5, but that probably wouldn't work too well, as the vehicle is similiar. What would however work would be T4 StuG III "early" (let's say until Ausf. F/8) while the T5 would be StuG III "late" (Ausf.G,H) with schürzen.
StuG III Ausf.G
The StuG III Ausf.H (its real project name was 7,5 cm PaK 42 L/70 auf StuG III) is sort-of historical. A project for re-arming the StuG III was made in 1943 by Alkett. The rearming was ordered by Hitler himself in December 1942. A wooden mockup was made. After the war, the mockup was captured by the Americans and ended up in Aberdeen. The gun wouldn't however fit in normally - the superstructure was radically reworked. Thus, the ingame StuG III with original superstructure but the L/70 cannon is a fake.
The new branch
So, now that we have the Hetzer available, let's have a look at how such a tree would work:
T2: Panzerjäger I
T3: Marder III Ausf.M
T4: Jagdpanzer 38t "Hetzer"
T5: Hetzer (Krupp) or Aufklärungspanzer 38
T6: Jagdpanzer 38d
T7: Waffenträger Ardelt
T8: Waffenträger Ardelt-Krupp
T9: Waffenträger Rheinmetall-Borsig 128mm
T10: Waffenträger Rheinmetall-Borsig 128mm/150mm
Tier 3: Marder III Ausf.M
The history of Marder III is described pretty much everywhere, it's a rather known vehicle. In the end, it doesn't really matter which Ausführung you choose, because none of them had usually compatible weapons. The first Marder III, known as Panzerjäger 38t, was equipped with the Sovier 76,2mm gun (PaK 36(r)), modified to fire the German 75mm rounds. Later variants (Ausf.H and M) were fitted with the 75mm Pak 40/3 gun. From what I could find, no Marder III was originally armed with a 50mm gun, so there would be little continuity from the Panzerjäger I. However, given the fact that the second German branch announced by Wargaming (the one with the Waffenträger E-100) has Marder III on T3 slot too, I don't think Wargaming would see this as a problem (or it would dish out some unhistorical mashup of the various Marder III models). Either way, this vehicle is hard to make completely historically, so some suspension of disbelief is necessery.
Weapons: (?) 50mm PaK 39 L/60, 76,2mm PaK 36(r), 75mm PaK 40/3
Tier 4: Jagdpanzer 38t "Hetzer"
Here it's kinda pointless to add anything, the vehicle is already in the game and it works fine. Just refer to WoTwiki for details.
Weapons: 75mm StuK40, 75mm PaK39, 105mm StuH 42
Tier 5: Jagdpanzer 38t "Hetzer" (Kruppvorschlag)
In November 1944, Krupp made several proposals regarding the rearming ("Umbewaffnung") of existing hulls. Amongst them was a proposal to upgrade the Hetzer with a superstructure and to mount the 75mm KwK 42 (L/70) gun within. The design had some serious flaws. In order to install the superstructure, the engine and crew compartment would have to be completely reworked. Also, it was doubtful whether the original 38t suspension could hold the weight of the added weight - in order to reach a sufficient level of protection, it would have to carry 18 tons. According to the WaPrüf6 report, this vehicle would have about the same characteristics as the Jagdpanzer IV lang (A), currently being recalled from the front for being a failure.
This project never reached prototype stage. A great number of Krupp redesign project was most likely motivated (the way the 3rd Reich worked) by the attempt to secure further contracts. Most of the design proposals were rejected in January 1945 - it was no time for introduction of new projects. Krupp returned to this concept with a similiar construction, built on 38d hull - with marginally better parameters.
We can only estimate how such a vehicle would behave game-wise. It would most likely have thinner armor and would be slower than the current StuG III, which would have to be compensated by different weaponry.
Weapons: 75mm StuK40, 105mm StuH 42, 75mm KwK 42, PAW600 (German advanced gun project - 81,4mm smoothbore gun, firing HEAT rounds of roughly 140mm penetration)
Tier 6: Jagdpanzer 38d
The Jagdpanzer 38d was based on an evolution of the 38t suspension. Originally, it was called 38 "Reich", but quickly got renamed to 38d (Deutsch). Basically, in September 1944, OKH (army high command) decided they want a new light tank destroyer, based on the 38t chassis. There was a problem however: the 38t chassis was ill-suited for German mass production (due to the way it was manufactured, Czech industrial methods were different from the ones of Germany and could not be copied easily). Thus it was decided the suspension would be modified using the German methods. This project was designed by Alkett and and re-named 38 Ausführung Reich. Basically, the suspension was made 60mm wider and its final drive was strenghtened. In the meanwhile, in October 1944, it was decided to limit the future production of the Third Reich to only three platforms: the Tiger, the Panther and the 38(t/d). The project was finished really quickly - in November 1944, the basic works were finished (by that time it was renamed 38d.) The result was actually quite good and a new tank destroyer was planned based on it. It was to resemble the original 38t, but it was to carry either the 75mm PaK39 L/48 or the 75mm KwK 42 cannon. A version for 105mm StuH42/2 was also concieved. The frontal armor was projected at 60mm. It was projected to be propelled by the Tatra T103 220hp engine, propelling it to 40 km/h.
In January 1945, a detailed meeting of the Entwicklungskomission Panzer in Obering took place, where the plans for the development and production were laid forth, but by then the war was only months from its end. Some plans were made, but they never came to fruition. Two partially assembled prototypes were made by Alkett, but it's unlikely the company ever made them running.
In the game, this could be the "Hetzer on steroids", but truth to be told, it's not that different from the original Hetzer. It would however be rather small - that means good camo rating. The weapons choice is a bit lackluster, but it'll get better.
Weapons: 75mm PaK39 L/48, 105mm StuH 42, 75mm KwK 42, PAW600
Tier 7 onwards - the Waffenträgers
Here it's starting to get a bit complicated. Originally, I thought about the Jagdpanzer 38d (project Krupp) on this spot. It was basically a Jagdpanzer 38d with a superstructure, in the back, armed with a top-of-the-line PAW1000 gun (essentially a smoothbore HEAT-firing German gun, capable of penetrating cca 200mm of armor). It looked like this:
But it has two problems. First: it uses the PAW1000 which is smoothbore (well, at least it's historical), but not the 88mm PaK 43, which would get skipped, only to return on tier 8. That's just weird. Furthermore, the vehicle wasn't exactly stellar. As with the 38t Krupp proposal, the chassis was rather stressed and the characteristics wouldn't be exactly great. I was thinking of adding some later (rifled) variant (81mm L/105 prototype - yes, such a thing existed), but I am not sure it would fit the superstructure. Thus, it would be historically correct to continue with the Waffenträgers.
"Waffenträger" in German means "weapons carrier" - and that's exactly what the Waffenträgers were. If we skip all the improvised weapons carries, made either from captured or German knocked-out tech, the idea to make an unified mass-produced weapons carriers came to be in early 1944. In January 1944, a conference took place between the members of the army and the industry representatives. The army complained that the PaK 42 and PaK 43 cannons were simply way too heavy to manhandle and impossible to tow without special artillery tractors. It was a reasonable complaint - Doyle mentions one incident, when brand new 88mm PaK 43 cannons had to be destroyed without firing a single shot in order to prevent them from falling to the enemy - just because there were no towing vehicles available. Thus a decision was made to mount all the heavy anti-tank guns on a simple, effective and cheap 38t platform, designated as "Einheitsfahrgestell", or "unified platform". Hitler personally started messing around too, ordering the abovementioned decision thru one of his directives and so the Waffenträger concept was born.
The first one to react to this new demand was Ardelt. Its 88mm PaK 43 Waffenträger proposal was made in two versions: one lighter, practically without any protection weighting 10 tons, one protecting the crew at least from small arms fire, weighting 13 tons, having a fully revolving turret. Versions for 75mm PaK 42, 105mm leFH 18/40 and 88mm PaK 43 (L/71) were concieved. This design (with two 1:10 models) was presented to Hitler in late January - Hitler, after seeing it, decided to go straight for the 88mm version, using the "Kreuzlafette" (cross mount). The vehicle was to be equipped with the L/71 gun with 50 rounds of ammo, with depression/elevation of -8/+45 degrees. The gun for the Ardelt project was to be modified by Rheinmetall Borsig. The armor was cca 20mm thick and the maximum speed in terrain was to be cca 30 km/h. This is how it looked:
The prototype (although not fully functional) was ready in April 1944 - it was tested and the tests were reasonably successful (no major breakdowns). The WaPrüf officials were very positive about the vehicle - the only issue being the gun mount, which was not ideal (Ardelt would later move to the Krupp mount). This project was actually still noted as active in September 1944, but at some point after that, it was cancelled due to the low resources.
Another, competing platform would be created by Steyr. Carrying the same weapon and having nearly the same characteristics, its PaK 43 gun mount was modified by Krupp. The vehicle was again using the 38t platform and was to be propelled by the V12 "boxer" Steyr enging (140hp), but that engine was not yet available and so the Praga EPA AC/2 180hp engine was used instead. Maybach HL and Klocker-Deutz diesel engine was also considered. From this point, the pieces of information are a bit sketchy. At least one prototype was made (and captured by the Allies) - it was scheduled to be read around October 1944. At some point after that, the program was stopped. This is how it looked:
The third Waffenträger was built in cooperation of Krupp and Ardelt. A modified platform from the original Ardelt vehicle was used. The vehicle had once again a fully revolving turret with the 88mm PaK 43 cannon. The elevation was -8/+25 this time and the gun had 42 pieces of ammo (6 in the ready rack on the side of the turret. Two prototypes were made until the end of 1944 (2nd prototype was ready on 23.9.1944) - further 7 serial vehicles were also produced. This was probably the only Waffenträger ever to see live combat. All 7 vehicles were attached to Panzerjäger-Alarmkompanie Eberswalde, commanded by Oberleutnant Ardelt (he died fighting on the vehicle). The unit fought near Eberswalde, roughly 50km northeast from Berlin, where it was defeated. One of these vehicles was then brought to Russia, tested in 1946 and remains in Kubinka to this day. This is how it looked:
And how to make this work in World of Tanks? Well, let's see:
Tier 7 - Ardelt Waffenträger (75mm L/70, 88mm PaK 43)
Tier 8 - Ardelt-Krupp Waffenträger (88mm PaK 43, 81mm L/105) (or the Steyr variant)
Tier 9 and 10 - well, this is where it gets REALLY complicated. First, we definitely need a 128mm vehicle here. There was a Rheinmetall-Borsig 128mm PaK 44 Waffenträger project too (but stayed only on the paper). Here's how it looked:
Game-wise, it would be very light, maneuverable, with fully revolving 128mm PaK 44 (L/55, L/61 variants) mount - the ROF would be boosted compared to the Jagdtiger, the camo factor would be excellent but of course the armor would be non-existent.
And as for tier 10? Well, there are again basically two options: either a 128mm Flak 45 (or rather PaK 45), or a 150mm gun. The first option could use the same carrier as tier 9 (or a modified chassis of Rheinmetall Borsig, which I really like visually):
The second option had a special Waffenträger designed by Krupp:
The FlaK 45 is generally an interesting weapon. It was designed to succeed the 128mm FlaK 40 (PaK 44). It had a bigger breech and used higher load of explosives. The original FlaK could propel the 27kg round at 880 m/s, FlaK 45 could shoot the same shells at 1500 m/s. Combined with an APCR shell... well, you can imagine.
From a pre-war lighttank to the mighty Waffenträger project, the 38t/d suspension proved its worth time and time again. Very few designs survived the war like that. Post-war fate of the 38t suspension was not that bright however. Several light tanks and tank destroyer/SPG designs were proposed in Czechoslovakia and for a while, it was even manufactured with the Hetzer copies for Czechoslovakia and Switzerland, but ultimately, it disappeared in late 50's.